The first of the Mercury’s own productions is the classic American black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, which you may know from the Capra film with Cary Grant as Mortimer Brewster. This new staging is by Casement with a design by Dawn Allsopp and it runs between 4 and 20 October. Close on its trim heels comes Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls directed by Gari Jones and designed by Sara Perks (1 to 17 November). It will be interesting to see how this production contrasts with Out of Joint’s spring tour of this 1980s play.
Both these shows are on the main-stage. Into the Studio come two Mercury co-productions. One is the UK première of Hard Places> by the Mumbai-based playwright Farhad Sorabjee concerned with the corrosive effect of borders with all their attendant restrictions upon ordinary individuals. You can see how it affects Aziz and Saira between 5 and 15 September. The Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour examines being trapped within your own country – again borders to be crossed, if permitted – in White Rabbit Red Rabbit which will be performed by a different Mercury company actor each night from 23 to 27 October.
From 7 December until 12 January is pantomime time. This year it’s the turn of Jack and the Beanstalk written and directed by Janice Dunn, designed by Foxton and with all the usual Mercury suspects lined up for the cast. Members of the theatre’s flourishing youth and community groups are also involved. The Youth Theatre itself is staging its own festival of new productions between 22 and 25 August – Fresh. This includes Hard Times adapted from Dickens’ novel and directed by Jones and Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme in Malleson’s English-language version of The Prodigious Snob directed by Adrian Stokes.
Visiting companies are presenting a wide variety of shows. From 29 August until 8 September Alan Ayckbourn’s newest play, the ghost story Haunting Julia directed by Andrew Hall and with Joe McFadden, Richard O’Callaghan and Duncan Preston in the cast is in the main theatre. It’s produced in association with the Mercury, by the way. Middle Ground, always a company with an interesting take on plays, offers Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest from 22 to 27 October.
In the Studio, the fare ranges from Eastern Angles’ autumn tour of I (Heart) Peterborough (2 and 3 October), Missing in Action by Brendan Murray based on stories from World War One survivors (9-11 October), The Meaning of Riff – about Heavy Metal, if you hadn’t already worked that out – (13 October) to Cleo Sylvestre’s re-telling of the story of [Mary Seacole (20 October) and Bob Kingdom’s one-man show of and about Dylan Thomas (23 November). There is also a full programme of shows for younger children.
St Anne’s is a part of Colchester which probably doesn’t figure very much as far as the town’s playgoers are concerned. But a new collaboration between the Mercury, First Site and the Colchester Arts Centre plans to develop an on-site experience which will include the rejuvenation of one part of the estate’s criss-cross of alleys to include a permanent work-of-art. More details to follow.