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Austen, Dickens, Inchbald, Shakespeare and Wilde take to the stage in Bury St Edmunds

By • Southeast
The setting itself is a Regency masterpiece. But how do you select the gems to fit into it? That seems to be the conundrum facing Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal as artistic director Colin Blumenau departs after 16 years’ tenure and, as chief executive Simon Daykin made clear at the official launch of the autumn and spring season, there’s no immediate intention to replace him.

Public perception – as evinced by the recent BBC2 documentary Arts Trouble Shooter and the theatre’s own open day – appears to see the repertoire as well as the building as too rooted in the past. The financial constraints of booking popular shows for a venue which cannot hold more than 350 people, of creating profitable in-house productions created and balancing all this, as well as the books, with a vibrant community and outreach programme probably are not things which leach into the public consciousness – not even that of the most committed playgoers.

Blumenau outlined the programme scheduled for the remainder of 2012 and early 2013. Two in-house productions book-end it. The first, running in Bury St Edmunds between 13 and 29 September, is a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park by Tim Luscombe. This will have a cast of eight, settings by Kit Surrey (who was responsible for much of the Theatre Royal’s restored decoration) and will also tour to Bath, Exeter, Basingstoke, Eastbourne, Oxford and Taunton between 1 October and 29 November.

Romeo and Juliet runs from 21 February to 9 March 2013 and will be directed by Lynn Whitehead, head of the theatre’s learning department. In between comes Blumenau’s last production in his present capacity (he also directs Mansfield Park) – the pantomime Rapunzel and the Rascal Prince (30 November to 13 January). Not perhaps an obvious choice of stories, but concentrate if you will on the first syllable of the names of the title characters – Rapunzel and Rapscallion…

There are three Restoring the Repertoire script-in-hand rehearsed readings this season. The first is a double-bill of [Garrick’s Miss in her Teens and Hannah Cowley’s Who’s the Dupe? on 6 September at the Guildhall. Suffolk’s own Elizabeth Inchbald was responsible for the Kotzebue adaptation planned for production by the young people at Mansfield Park; the cast of Mansfield Park take the roles allocated to them on 24 September in the theatre itself.

Back to the Guildhall on 11 October for another double-bill. This one pairs Fielding’s The Old Debauchees (1732) with Planché’s 1844 Somebody Else. Both concern the ways in which women can evade unwelcome advances. Dickens’ WomenMiriam Margolyes’ one-woman show – on 2 and 3 October has another perspective on the subject. And there’s another iconic female ready to step into the limelight on 9 October – Elizabeth I, as portrayed by Rebecca Vaughan.

Other visiting productions include Gomito’s The Alchemystorium on 6 October, the Paul Hudson adaptation of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch on 16 and 17 October, the Perth Theatre Company and Weeping Secrets’ The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer on 18 October and yet another reverence in the direction of Dickens – a Hallowe’en reading on 31 October of the ghost story The Signalman. LipService lighten the mood somewhat on 13 and 14 November with Inspector Norse.

London Classic Theatre bring Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest to the Theatre Royal between 15 and 17 November; this is part of an autumn tour of a new production. Ballet Theatre UK’s latest dance-drama A Christmas Carol can be seen from 19 to 21 November. It should be noted that playgoers from the various surrounding villages who want to see Mansfield Park can take advantage of the TheatreBus service.


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