The lynchpin of the season is a co-production with the Nottingham Playhouse of Arnold Wesker’s Roots, the central play in his 1950s trilogy which began with
Absent Friends by Alan Ayckbourn, however, is the first in-house production of the season, from 23 February until 10 March. Gari Jones directs this wry comedy of well-meant sympathy for a man bereaved – and a whole raft of awkward revelations comes floating out of the various teacups in the process.
You may have seen the excellent West End production of Brian Friel’s Dancing at Lughnasa during its national tour last year. Between 31 May and 16 June you can see what the Mercury company makes of it in a new staging by Janice Dunn. It’s a story of rural Ireland in 1936, where seven-year old Michael lives with his mother, her sisters and their missionary priest brother.
Visiting companies offer an equally intriguing selection of plays. First off is Ron Aldridge’s supernatural erotic thriller (well, that’s producer Ian Dickens description) Haunted. It stars Peter Amory and Paul David-Gough from 6 to 11 February. From the same producer also comes Ivan Menchell’s New York-set The Cemetery Club. Casting for this between 18 and 20 June has yet to be announced.
The Christopher Luscombe/Joe Harmston Star Quality takes the stage between 13 and 18 February with Liza Goddard now playing Lorraine, a theatrical diva of a type which Noël Coward knew very well. The rest of the cast, including Gay Soper, Daniel Casey, Anthony Houghton and Bob Saul, is the same as for last autumn’s well-received tour.
Although the centenary year for Terence Rattigan may have ended in 2011, Planet Theatre’s production of Less Than Kind lives on. Sara Crowe and James Wilby star in this wartime drama, well worth catching from 19 to 24 March. Also concerned with World War II is Lilies on the Land, based on letters from and interviews with some of the women who took over conscripted men’s jobs in the countryside.
If you’ve already seen it, you’ll know that being a member of the Women’s Land Army was a rude awakening for many. If you haven’t, then find out more between 21 and 23 May. It’s preceded by LipService’s Withering Looks (8 and 9 May) which is vaguely – very vaguely – concerned with the Brontë sisters. 9 to 14 July ushers in the new stage version of a classic British film comedy Doctor in the House. Joe Pasquale plays still-wet-behind-the-ears medical student Simon Sparrow with Robert Powell as surgeon supremo Sir Lancelot Spratt.
Over the Rainbow tells the life story of Eva Cassidy with Sarah Jane Buckley as Cassidy and other roles played by Pauline Flemming, Robert Grose and Bob McVeigh. Find out why this shy girl from Washington DC has attracted such a posthumous following from 14 to 16 March. The Chinese Cirque du Ciel brings ShangHi to the Mercury from 29 to 31 March; we’re assured that this spectacular acrobatic show will fit neatly onto the stage.
Studio shows include Maison Foo’s Adventures of a Biscuit Tin (3 March), Callas by Jean-Yves Picq directed by Richard Digby Day (23 and 24 March, Ewan Wardrop recreating the on- and off-stage life of George Formby (26 to 28 April), and Release from Icon Theatre (8 June).
Two productions which have been previously staged in workshop tryouts are Tu I Teraz by Nicola Werenowska (24 to 26 May), which I saw at Pulse last year and Janice Okoh’s Egusi Soup, a wry look at the cultural differences facing a British-Nigerian family as it prepares to attend a funeral in Lagos. Menagerie presents it between 14 and 16 June.
There are also productions aimed at yonger Colchester audiences. The Gruffalo (1 and 2 May), Science Museum Live on Tour (10 and 11 May) and Ballet Cymru’s version of Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs (12 May) are all in the main theatre. Angel Exit’s adaptation of The Secret Garden (13 February), Theatr No N’Og’s bite-sized Aesop’s Fables (17 February) and Scamp’s Swamp Juice (12 June) are all in the Studio.
Spoiled for choice, wanting to book for a number of shows, but needing to save some money? The Mercury’s new website offers a couple of bargains. If you book your seats – and you can preselect these – there’s no booking fee, provided that you pick up your tickets from the box office. Book for all three new in-house productions and you can save 20 per cent on the total cost. Book for just two, and you still get ten per cent discount. A thoroughly inflation-busting, nose-thumbing riposte to 2012 recessionary blues.