So after the lulls of the Christmas period theatres begin to lurch back into action as the seasonal shows pack away their wares for another year and the winter/spring seasons really kick into gear. 2016 was a pretty high quality year all told but there is plenty coming up in the first few months of the year to suggest we could have an equally strong year this one. Here are just a few of the things designed to tempt you out from winter hibernation in the next couple of months.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang– Bristol Hippodrome 25 Jan- 04 February
Jason Manford, Phil Jupitus and Charlotte Wakefield lead the cast of this touring production, its final destination after a year on the road. There are plenty of great toe-tapping numbers to keep people of all ages entertained from the title number to Me Ol’Bamboo and Hushaby Mountain. And if this doesn’t convince you a ticket is surely worth the purchase to see the titular car in action.
In Between Time Festival– Various venues 8-12 February
Bristol’s bi-annual live art festival has a number of shows worth your attention playing over its five days. With Mayfest taking a year out this year it is the only opportunity for those of a theatrical vent to immerse themselves in festival madness this year. Some of the shows to keep an eye on The Record by 600 Highwaymen, Nic Green’s Cock and Bull, Dickie Beau’s Lost In Trans, a performance piece by Tim Etchells and Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat.
The Miser– Bath Theatre Royal 8-18 February
Sean Foley is one of our foremost comedy writers/directors so his free adaptation along with Phil Porter of Moliere’s play should hit plenty of funny bones. Add in the comic populism of Lee Mack and Matthew Horne and a return of two time Olivier award winner Griff Rhys Jones to the stage and this has this years One Man Two Guvnors written potentially all over it. For a different take on Moliere Andrew Hilton will present his own adaption of Tartuffe for Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory from 6 April- 6 May.
Our Town- Circomedia 10-18 February
Thornton Wilder’s meta-theatrical masterpiece will be brought to life in a promenade production by the students of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Which should allow us to get to know the residents of Grover’s Corner close up. Alongside seeing stars of the future the theatre school allows you to see parts of the repertoire rarely touched by regional theatres due to budgetary reasons and so consequently are always worth a punt. Later on Bill Alexander (former RSC and Birmingham Rep AD) returns to direct early Shakespeare comedy The Two Gentleman Of Verona (24 Feb-3 Mar)
The Episode- Wardrobe Theatre- 16-18 February
Wardrobe Ensemble member Tom Brennan’s latest play about fashion, power and cataclysmic disaster sounds like it’s worth a watch. Brennan’s work recently on 1972: The Future Of Sex and Rocky: A Horror Story has marked him out as a director who has moved on from promise to accomplishment. Hopefully this work will provide more of the same.
Othello– TF Theatres 16 Feb- 01 April
This was already one of my highlights of the year having seen a number of great Richard Twyman productions over the last couple of years and his elevation to the role of Artistic Director of English Touring Theatre has proved a real coup to Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory with a cast to die for. Recent RADA graduate Abraham Popoola plays the Moor in a reassuringly diverse company but it is in the casting of experienced Shakespeareans Mark Lockyer and Katy Stephens that suggest the company well and truly have their mojo back.
Plastic– Ustinov Theatre 23 Feb-25 March
There’s been a couple of ho-hum years from the Ustinov after their blazingly hot 2014 but the omens look good with their Spring season of new European plays. Marius von Mayenburg’s works are normally lively affairs and this play about political correctness in the middle classes has the potential to make the citizens of lovely Bath squirm slightly in their seats. Matthew Dunster as director is a man who rarely holds back on his punches so expect this to be darkly comic stuff.
Junkyard- Bristol Old Vic 24 Feb-18 March
How do you follow up Harry Potter? For playwright Jack Thorne its going back to his roots with a musical piece about a playground in Henleaze with a score by Academy Award winner Stephen Warbeck. It’s a big co-production but opens at its natural home in Bristol and will be the first look at where the theatre goes now after its stonking 2016.
Sunny Afternoon– Bristol Hippodrome 7-11 March
The Stones and The Beatles may have been the biggest acts but for plenty of music connoisseurs the Kinks were the band of the sixties. This musical with book by Joe Penhall and direction by Edward Hall follows the same formula as the smash hit Jersey Boys and was garlanded with awards over its two year West End run. If nothing else it definitely will have the best score of any show this season.
Letters To Windsor House– 21-25 March– TF Theatres at Wardrobe
Sh!t Theatre bring their brand of anarchic Total Theatre award nominated show about the housing crisis to the Wardrobe Theatre as part of TF Beyond. Expect the political and the personal to intersect in a show with songs, poetry and humour from those who live in Project Rent.
Escaped Alone 22-26 March– Bristol Old Vic
Time Out’s number one show of last year comes to Bristol as part of its national tour. Caryl Churchill has always been our most adventurous of playwrights and this concept sounds a corker, as four women sit in a garden and talk as an impending apocalypse takes place around them. Described as intimate but vast, domestic and wild it plays with form and structure and has given us a reminder if any was ever needed that no one does it better than Caryl Churchill.
Bristol Improv Marathon- 25-26 March- Bristol Improv Theatre
26 hours. Over 20 performers. One epic play. Its an endurance for audience and performer alike but drop in or out or stay and watch the whole preposterous thing in this its third annual marathon event.
What The Butler Saw- 27 Mar- 1 Apr- Bath Theatre Royal
This is a play that seems to pop up time and time again in recent years but that is because it can lay claim to be one of the great funny plays of modern theatre. Yet Joe Orton’s subversive sex comedy seems to become more and more pertinent in each run in its blurring of sexual identities and the role of psychoanalysis. Rufus Hound and Dakota Blue Richards star in this Curve Leicester production stopping off in Bath before its presumed West End run.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes- 4-8 April- Bristol Hippodrome
Britains foremost story dance maker brings his latest work to the Bristol Hippodrome and it seems a match made in heaven. With influences both from the original fairytale by Hans Chrtistian Andersen and some of the glamour of Powell and Pressburger’s film. It’s themes of the sacrifices people make for art should ring as loud and clear as ever. Expect this to dance on to box office gold.
The Mentor- 6 Apr-6 May- Ustinov Studio
The starriest event of the season with the announcement that Academy Award winner and Homeland star F . Murray Abraham to Bath’s small studio space. He stars in German sensation Daniel Kehlmann’s work as a distinguished writer who in his mentoring of a young star sees massive ego’s clash over arguments about art and the nature of fame. If there is not enough distinguished talent on display, the play has been translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Ustinov Artistic director Laurence Boswell.
La Strada- 11-22 April- Bristol Old Vic
Sally Cookson’s latest project is a musical adaptation of Fellani’s iconic film with Audrey Bresson in the leading role of Gelsomina who finds herself at the centre of a love triangle in the travelling circus she joins. Cookson is one of our most playful theatre directors and this production should allow her to create a world that jostles all our senses. With commercial West End producer Kenny Wax on board expect this to be another rung on the ladder for Sally Cookson’s theatrical power play.