From Shakespeare to Chekhov, to Williams to Miller, Bristol and Bath are well served with the heavy hitters this Winter and Spring season. As theatres get back into the swing of things after the takeover of Christmas, rich programmes are promised across the board. Tobacco Factory shuts for renovation as it begins to build its studio but a quiet season for them is offset by their work with the first Factory Ensemble, a group of actors, most sourced locally, who will tackle two contrasting plays. Bristol Old Vic gets ready for its own presentation of its space but before it does offers a director steeped in Russia, his first opportunity with a Russian master. Bath Theatre Royal has its strongest touring rota in a long time while presenting two fascinating pieces in the Ustinov while Bristol Hippodrome brings the big commercial shows to the city. There really is something for everyone so let’s get stuck right in.
The Wedding- Bristol Old Vic 17-20 January
Ipswich based physical theatre company Gecko open round two of their latest show in Bristol before embarking on a UK tour. The Wedding looks at what it is to be human, a contract all of us are bound up to, and queries whether it is ever possible to ask for a divorce? Blending imagery, physical movement and provocative narratives Gecko are a company as distinct in the UK theatre scene as any. This revised production should make quite a statement.
Wicked- Bristol Hippodrome 31 January-03 February
Everything that needs to be said about Wicked has already been uttered. With big musical theatre anthems, two powerhouse female leads and a show whose motto is to be true to yourself, this is a show that seems destined to run forever. Now headed out on its second UK tour while it continues to play in the West End, it features ex-Eastender Aaron Sidwell as Fiyero along with Amy Ross and Helen Woolf as the two witches finding friendship in pre Dorothy Oz.
Things I Know To Be True- Bristol Old Vic 06-10 February
Following a tour of the UK and Australia in 2016 Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company’s production of Andrew Bovell’s play is back. Riding the crest of a string of golden reviews the work explores the intricacies of family life, and has been described by the critics as both beautiful and haunting. The stunning vistas of Britain’s oldest working theatre should complement it perfectly.
The Play That Goes Wrong- Bath Theatre Royal 12-17 February
Mischief Theatre are bringing the chaos back to Bath! In one of the great theatrical success stories of this or any time, this play that started above a pub is now flying high on the great white lights of Broadway, produced by one JJ Abraham. You can now see the hilarious work that got the director of Star Wars to cough up, or go again, after all witnessing unmitigated theatrical disasters, as Michael Frayn once proved, is one of life’s great pleasures
SEXY- Wardrobe Theatre 13-17 February
‘What do you find sexy? What does sexy even mean?’ Brilliant performance poet Vanessa Kissule looks at the eternal question and delves into our relationship with our own and others bodies in a work being presented at the Wardrobe Theatre as part of Bristol Old Vic’s walkabout season. She’s a real firecracker, smart and provocative. Expect this show to follow suit.
Crimes Under The Sun- Ustinov Studio 13-24 February
Award winning theatre company New Old Friends present another high jinks night of pleasure that looks to spoof the works of Christie, Hitchcock and detective stories set on the glamorous Riviera. The Ustinov visiting company’s season is always piled high with interesting work, but a return to an old stomping ground for this funny bone company is sure to prove some interest.
The Taming Of The Shrew- Circomedia 17-24 February
Former RSC director Bill Alexander is an ideal mentor to help guide the latest graduating students of BOVTS. He seems to have a thing for the difficult plays, previously having tackled anti-Semitism in The Merchant Of Venice and early career stutters in Two Gentleman Of Verona. He now tackles the delightfully complicated battle of the sexes that is The Shrew. The poster, already on display outside the venue highlights the girls the men barter for, so expect a take that gets right to the heart of the matter in a post #MeToo World.
Macbeth- Tobacco Factory Theatres 22 February- 07 April
The Tobacco Factory begin a new adventure with the first show of their new repertory company the Factory Company, which help open auditions for professional actors who reside in the area. It doesn’t get more challenging than presenting the Scottish play, a work notoriously difficult to pull of, though previous studio productions would suggest that the in the round space is an ideal venue for it. Rising star Adele Thomas, already a regular at Shakespeare’s Globe, directs.
Winter Solstice- Ustinov Studio 28 February-03 March
Having previously created a buzz after its run at co-producers the Orange Tree Richmond, Actors Touring Company now tour this play from Germany’s most performed playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig. It’s a work that looks at how incendiary political positions can be inflected on any household in this razor sharp comedy. ATC work is always brilliantly challenging, for those who miss the Ustinov’s brilliant programming of the best of European plays, this should tide them over in the meantime.
Booby’s Bay- Wardrobe Theatre 01-03 March
Henry Darke’s debut play comes to Bristol- the Old Vic helped in its development-after an earlier run at the Finborough. As summer season hits Cornwall a former fisherman decides to make a stand even if no one is listening. Darke was connected to BOV through the ‘Open Session’ and this play was developed through the programme. It will go to its spiritual home, Cornwall, after its Wardrobe run.
The Cherry Orchard- Bristol Old Vic 01 March-07 April
Former RSC boss Michael Boyd, after a directing career the best part of 30 years and which began with a training in Moscow, has his first stab at Chekhov. Boyd’s productions normally thrive with a meticulous level of detail and the Russian’s last great masterpiece surely will provide plenty of riches. Adapted by playwright of the moment Rory Mullarkey and with initial casting including the brilliant Kirsty Bushall and Jude Owusu this could prove, all being well, to be one of the richest nights of theatre this year.
Dracula- Loco Club 09-17 March
Bram Stoker’s tale of a Transylvanian count is probably my favourite novel bar none, and the dark, gothic ambience of the Loco Club, under Temple Meads should be an ideal venue in which to see Liz Lochhead’s award winning 1985 adaptation play out. The final year BOVTS students should take great pleasure in performing what is a most anticipated spooky delights.
Best Of BE Festival- Circomedia 15-16 March
Mike Tweddle, before he took the reins of Tobacco Factory Theatres, helped set up the BE Festival in Birmingham and it appears lucky Bristol now gets the annual pleasure of its highlight package on tour. A mask piece from Spain, André and Dorine that looks at the onset of Alzheimer’s and the old couple battling to remember what holds them together appears particularly poignant.
Agnes Colander- Ustinov Studio 15 March-14 April
Trevor Nunn makes his Ustinov debut, directing a world premiere production of Harley Granville Barker’s ‘lost’ play, discovered in some library papers in 2016. Lost plays are normally ‘lost’ for a reason so it’ll be interesting to see if it can stand on the shoulders of Barker’s undoubted masterpieces The Voysey Inheritance and Waste. It’s core creative team, which also includes US playwright Richard Nelson submitting revisions to the original, suggests that there may be something behind this lost curio.
Bristol Improv Festival- Bristol Improv Theatre 16-17 March
A 26 hour marathon. The best of the Bristol improve scene. Anything can and is likely to happen from Friday to Saturday night in a now annual marathon. It’s on my theatrical bucket list to tackle as much of this as I can this year. Expect the unexpected.
This House- Bath Theatre Royal 19-24 March
The play that propelled James Graham to be labelled as Britain’s foremost political playwright comes to Bath for a week as part of its UK tour. It is a gift of a play, one that made government policy, party whips and 1970’s Parliament thrilling and accessible. Bath Theatre Royal have some terrific touring work visiting, very little should be as fine as this.
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella- Bristol Hippodrome 20-24 March
The King of dance theatre brings his much loved World War II set Cinderella to Bristol. Very little more needs to be said, tickets will be gobbled up double smart in what is always an annual treat.
Beautiful- Bristol Hippodrome 03-07 April
Carole King’s Tapestries is routinely voted one of the most influential albums of all time by those talking heads of music. This jukebox show is wall to wall hits including ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’ as gawky teenager becomes one of the great.
Mary Stuart- Bath Theatre Royal 04-14 April
Lia Williams and Juliet Stephenson toss a coin at the beginning of each role to see who plays which warring Queen in wunderboy Robert Icke’s take on Schiller’s tale. Heading to Bath after a sojourn in the West End it’s a chance for audiences in the West to get a first hand look at the explosive programming currently coming out of Islington’s Almeida. With director of the moment and two great actresses, no other tour is more eagerly anticipated this season.
WNO Spring Residency- Bristol Hippodrome 11-14 April
The twice yearly residencies from WNO are always a treat and this one follows the usual formula. Two classics, in this case Tosca and Don Giovanni are presented with a more obscure third, Verdi’s La forza del destino. Musicianship and stagecraft are always sumptuous, its Bristol Hippdrome’s classiest nights of the year.
Polly- Wardrobe Theatre 16-17 April
A sequel to John Gay’s The Beggars Opera sounds right up my street and this adaptation, a highly physical work inspired by Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny version, should be well worth catching in this work in progress showing created by Bristol creatives, Stephanie Kempson, Marie Hamilton and Ben Osborn.
DollyWould- Wardrobe Theatre 18-21 April
I saw this production at Latitude last year and was highly taken by Sh!t Theatre’s inventive homage to the icon herself Dolly Parton. It may not be as coherently powerful as their award winning Letters To Windsor House but these girls know how to tell a story, wonderful tangents into modified genetics and all.
A Streetcar Named Desire- Bristol Old Vic 17-21 April
English Touring Theatre combine with the Nuffield and Theatre Clwyd to present Tennessee William’s scorching hot classic. Directed by 2017 RTST Peter Hall Director Award winner Chelsea Walker it’ll be an opportunity to see a young director tackle a classic in the main houses of regional theatres around the country. Not many details have been released for this yet, but expect it to be strongly cast, Blanche Dubois is one of the great roles for women, Gillian Andersen and Rachel Weisz are two of the actors to tackle it in recent years.
A View From The Bridge- Tobacco Factory Theatres 18 April- 12 May
The second production in the Factory ensemble sees TF Artistic Director Mike Tweddle finally get his hands dirty with his first production of Arthur Miller’s great American Drama. With memories of Van Hove’s iconic production still burnt into the synapses of all who see it, it will take something truly special to make the same kind of impression, but the community chorus, recruited and taking part in drama classes over the Spring before appearing in the show, promises a sense of community that is such an important part of the work.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain- Bath Theatre Royal 25 April-5 May
Robert Powell plays the great Holmes in a new theatrical adventure for the doyen of Baker Street which promises a final case for the great man. Simon Reade writes the piece for Bath Theatre Royal Productions and it also stars Liza Goddard as Mary Watson. Don’t expect the post modern concept of the Moffat and Gatiss BBC version, this should be a classical treat.
The Whale- Ustinov Studio 26 April-26 May
The Ustinov will close its spring season with a production of Samuel D. Hunter’s Lucille Lortel 2013 award winning play, continuing its commitment to the US repertoire. A 600 pound man, seemingly intent on eating himself to death, finds a chance of redemption when his estranged daughter reappears. Ustinov AD Laurence Boswell directs. After a quiet couple of years for the Studio after its wall to wall critical hot streak a few years ago, this is hopefully the year when this South West powerhouse discovers its mojo.