Premieres, classics and new musicals herald a new season

Next year the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, will have been re-opened for ten years. No doubt the theatre will have some celebratory plans up their sleeves but their new autumn season provides the perfect distillation of what the New Wolsey is all about.

When the theatre re-opened in 2001, there was much hand-wringing from traditional audiences about the lack of a rep company – familiar faces playing a variety of roles in a number of home-grown plays over a period of months.

Those days are gone – indeed they had already died before the old Wolsey came crashing to a halt in 1999. But, what we have now is infinitely better. We still have the thrill of staging home-grown productions but we also get to experience the best of what else is being produced by other theatres. Invariably work that is produced at the New Wolsey goes on to have a life elsewhere and similarly plays from other venues have an extended life by appearing at the New Wolsey.

Just the sheer variety and quality of the work has given the New Wolsey a buzz and a sheen that the previous theatre administration never enjoyed. Audiences are also much more diverse now. There is no one Wolsey audience. There are a multitude of over-lapping audiences and these audiences have been steadily built up on a basis of trust.

Audiences have come to rely on the taste and judgement of chief executive Sarah Holmes and artistic director Peter Rowe, who have skilfully negotiated the rebirth of the theatre in the more cost-conscious 21st century. In effect they have managed to do more with less.

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By expanding the variety of shows available at the theatre they have enlarged the audience. The New Wolsey now plays host to traditional theatre, new multi-media theatre, musicals, dance, classics, stand-up comedy, music, circus-based performances and everything in between.

The New Wolsey’s annual rock’n’roll pantomime swiftly became a Christmas institution and their summer Pulse Festival has given a focus to new companies looking to create fringe festival work for Edinburgh and elsewhere. The diverse nature of the work allows the theatre to become an important part of the lives of a great number of people of different ages and backgrounds.

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As Sarah Holmes has stated on many occasions that the New Wolsey programme is driven by the quality of the work. It’s not a question of booking famous names – although they’ve had a few in the form of Kelly McGillis and Helen Fraser and have Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon later this year – but it is getting the best plays, the best actors and the best touring productions and allowing audiences to discover their own favourites.

This autumn season has an air of celebration about it, mixing tried and tested classics with exciting new plays including a world premiere and a new musical from the pen of director Peter Rowe. If the New Wolsey is renowned for any one thing , it is for the quality of their musicals – particularly actor-musician musicals.

The season kicks off on September 7 & 8 with a mad-cap greatest hits show from those lunatic ladies at Lipservice will be revisiting some of their best-loved productions from the last 25 years in a show called Lipservice Best Bits. Among the shows they will be revisited are Wuthering Looks, Women On The Verger, Very Little Women, B-Road Movie and Horror For Wimps.

This will be followed on September 10 with the return of Oakham’s Razor, the critically acclaimed aerial theatre company, with The Mill. Director Toby Sedgwick won the Oliver Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for the National Theatre production of War Horse.

The first big in-house production of the autumn will be Oscar Wilde’s timeless classic The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s been rightly described as a genuine comedy masterpiece and thrives on comic re-invention. The fast-paced, impossibly entwined lives of Jack and Algernon along with their respective loves, Gwendolen and Cecily is being directed by Ellie Jones and runs from Friday September 17 to Saturday October 9.

This will be swiftly followed by the world premiere of Reasons To Be Cheerful, a new musical celebrating the life and career of Ian Dury. It’s going to be a big actor-musician show and will be a co-production between The New Wolsey, Theatre Royal Stratford East and New Wolsey regulars Graeae.

Written by Paul Sirett, it’s set in 1979 and Ian Dury and the Blockhead’s new single Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) is climbing the charts. Vinnie and his mates are big Ian Dury fans and they’re desperate for tickets to see him at the Hammersmith Odeon, but the gig’s sold out. Vinnie will do anything to see the Blockheads and his journey from Southend to Hammersmith turns into the most extraordinary event of his life.

Reasons To Be Cheerful runs from October 14-16.

The following week, the New Wolsey will be hosting another new musical Songs from a Hotel Bedroom, written and directed by Kate Flatt and Peter Rowe. Co-commissioned by ROH2 at the Royal Opera House, this a co-production between the Watford Palace Theatre and the New Wolsey. Set in 1949 in the stylish and sophisticated atmosphere of post-war New York, the show is described as an exciting new piece of music theatre that unfolds through the bittersweet love songs of Kurt Weill’s American repertoire and the sensuous mischief of tango dance.

Award-winning Ipswich-based company Gecko returns to the New Wolsey mainstage blending bold physicality with beautiful images, evocative music and dramatic storytelling in The Overcoat. They create an intoxicating world where a man’s thoughts and dreams spill out into everyday life. Based on a mixture of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and a Gogol story to engineer a highly inventive fantasy. This Gecko-Lyric Hammersmith Production is supported by the New Wolsey.

The New Wolsey is also forging close links with the Lyric Hammersmith with the bittersweet comedy If That’s All There Is which is being staged at the New Wolsey Studio in St Georges Street. Inspired by the Peggy Lee song Is That All Their Is?, it looks at a couple on the eve of marriage and charts their rising panic as the big day approaches. They were the winners of last year’s Edinburgh Festival fringe prize and the show was described as “a wickedly funny, well-honed piece.”

The final musical of the season is Steve Brown’s award-winning Spend, Spend, Spend which is directed by Strictly Come Dancing’s Craig Revel Horwood, who responsible for last season’s outstanding production of The Hot Mikado. Steve Brown also provided the score for The New Wolsey’s new musical It’s A Wonderful Life last September. The award-winning musical is best described as a cross between Billy Elliot and Blood Brothers. It follows the rags to riches to rags story of Viv Nicholson a coal miner’s wife from Castleford, who won �152,319 on the pools in 1961, at that time the biggest sum ever won.

The final production of the main season is The Madness of George III written by Alan Bennett and starring Simon Ward and Susan Penhaligon. The play is a brilliant exploration of duty and kingship, set against the monarch’s increasingly erratic behaviour. The show runs from November 17-20.

The autumn season ends with the now traditional rock’n’roll panto which this year adds some giant-sized hits to the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Among the songs which are seamlessly worked into the narrative are: Hit The Road Jack, Reach Out, I’ll Be There and Sweetest Feeling. Jack and the Beanstalk runs from December 2 to February 4 2011.

Other Wolsey show this season include an occult murder mystery with the world’s greatest detective in Sherlock Holmes… The Death and Life then there’s the true story of King Macbeth on September 27-28. Deborah McAndrew’s King Macbeth paints a compelling portrait of a gifted and charismatic young man, blown by the winds of birth, grief and love to the brink of power.

There are also children’s shows for ages 2 upwards which are held at New Wolsey Studio including Three Little Pigs which runs from December 7-31.

To book tickets call the New Wolsey Box Office 01473 295900 or visit

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