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Something for All Ages and All Tastes in Colchester This Sprng

By • Southeast
February may be fill-dyke month in old almanacs but Colchester’s Mercury Theatre offer a sparkling programme right through until July. It begins on 10 February with Ian Fricker’s co-production of The Secret of Sherlock Holmes by Jeremy Paul. Starring Peter Egan and Philip Franks – you may remember their Holmes and Watson from The Hound of the Baskervilles, also directed by Robin Herford – it plays on the idea that Holmes, his nemesis Professor Moriatry and Watson have more in common than is comfortable. Make up your own mind until 20 February or catch it in Guildford during March or at Westcliff and then Cambridge in April.

It’s followed from 25 February to 13 March by the another of the Mercury’s co-productions. This is Romeo and Juliet which boasts an international cast and the Astillero Tango Orchestra from Buenos Aires. Ed Hughes directs Gus Gallagher, Gina Isaac and Shuna Snow (members of the Mercury’s resident company) and actors from Salida Productions in this radical staging designed by Michael Valeand choreographed by Leandro Palou and Romina Godoy. The score is by Julian Peralta.

Over the past few years, Mercury artistic director Dee Evans has established a strong link with the US ensemble Shakespeare & Company. Its director Tina Packer brings her own play Women of Will to the Mercury Studio from 4 to 6 March and herself joins the cast. Eric Tucker directs. Another Studio show is Moon Fool’s Ill Met by Moonlight on 12 and 13 March. This comes from Trestle Theatre in St Albans, where it opens on 3 February, and reworks the fairy characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream as they recall their interaction with certain foolish mortals.

Back in the main house two very different adventures take the stage. The first of these is Huck from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn between 18 and 20 March. It comes from Fresh Glory Productions in association with Shapeshifter and the Chipping Norton Theatre and premieres in February at Ipswich before a three-month national tour. If Huck is for the young adventurer then Dad’s Army Marches On during the week beginning 22 March is for the veteran. James Robert Carson directs this Calibre Productions adaptation of the Jimmy Perry and David Croft scripts with starring roles for Leslie Grantham and Timothy Kightley.

War presents a very different face in the cycle of short plays – Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat by Mark Ravenhill and Eschara by Philip Whiteman – which Cheekish Productions presents in the Studio on 24 and 25 March. Both productions, directed by Dan Ayling, won acclaim at last year’s Brighton Fringe Festival. Eschara is the first play to examine the after-effects of the July 2007 attacks on London Transport, has been sponsored by that organisation and won a Norden Farm “Granted” Scheme award.

Two two-hander plays by women writers follow in the Studio. The first is Soul Play by Anna Reynolds directed by Kate Flatt and performed by Joy Constantinides and Sam Curtis on 27 March. It is in the form of a poetic lament and tells the story of one man’s personal journey following his mysterious and untimely death. La Musica is by Marguerite Duras with Vicki Weitz and James Jarrett as the couple meeting in a hotel lobby on the day their marriage is dissolved. It is directed by Stella Payne and presented by Father Hen Theatre, a Colchester-based company founded in 2007.

Middle Ground Theatre Company produces some interesting work. You may know the off-Broadway hit show Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune by Terence McNally through the film version with Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer; director Michael Lunney has netted two high-profile actors for his staging – Kelly McGillis and Rolf Saxon. This tour begins in January at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff and goes to Guildford, Worthing and Ipswich before arriving at the Mercury for the week beginning on 5 April.

Dylan ThomasUnder Milk Wood is the Mercury’s own main-house production from 15 April until 1 May. Gari Jones directs a cast including Miranda Bell, Roger Delves-Broughton and David Tarkenter; design is by Sara Perks, lighting by Richard Godin and sound by Marcus Christensen. It’s followed for the week of 4 May by the touring production of Spike Milligan’s comic wartime memoir Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall.

The evenings of 14 and 15 May balance out intriguingly with Mark Little Defending the Caveman  – Rob Becker’s take on male-female relationships – in the main auditorium and Deafinitely Theatre presenting Double Sentence in the Studio. Andrew Muir’s play is the story of a young man sent to prison for the crime he has indeed committed but finding that his deafness incurs a different sort of punishment. Paula Garfield directs.

For the final company production of the season, Dee Evans has chosen to direct King David, Man of Blood by Fraser Grace which re-examines the familiar story of the young man who came king, ruled well but lived unwisely. David’s attempt to balance the favour of God with his own desires is seen in the context of a wager between Lucifer and the Deity. It is designed by Sara Perks, lit by Ben Payne and runs from 27 May until 12 June.

Once more there’s a contrasting show to follow. Brian Clemens’ thriller Inside Job offers three killers, three bombs and three motives for the story of a safe-cracker enjoying life on the Costa del Crime until the arrival of Suzy bearing an offer he simply can’t bear to refuse. Bad mistake. Michelle Morris, Stephen McGann and Chris Ellison star in this Ian Dickens production for the week of 14 to 19 June. But there is an antidote on its way – take George’s Marvellous Medicine. David Wood’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl story is a Birmingham Stage Company production and you can see it from 13 to 17 July.

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