Christmas is coming a little late at London's Bush Theatre. Instead of closing 2003, playwright Simon Stephens will open 2004 at the west London theatre with a mini-season of plays: Christmas followed by One Minute.

In Christmas, which runs from 9 to 31 January 2004 (previews from 7 January), four men confront their past and brace themselves for an uncertain future, when they meet in an East End pub a week before Christmas Eve. While pub landlord Michael prepares for the Christmas rush, Billy comes to terms with his mother's newly-developed dope habit, Charlie plans to celebrate by having a bath and Seppo just wants to get drunk.

Directed by Jo McInnes, the Christmas cast includes Bernard Gallagher, Fred Ridgeway, Paul Ritter and Lee Ross with additional special guest appearances in cameo roles. It's presented by APE in association with Made in Brighton, Yes/No Productions and The Bush and is followed by Stephens' One Minute, presented by Actors Touring Company and Sheffield Theatres with The Bush.

In One Minute, running from 6 to 28 February 2004 (previews from 4 February), the police struggle with witnesses' inconclusive statements after a child goes missing. Directed by Gordon Anderson, the cast features Teresa Banham, Lucy Black, Sarah Paul, Tom Ellis and Simon Wolfe.

The Stephens mini-season will be followed in March 2004 by the return of Georgia Fitch's adrenaline...heart, about the transition of a single white mother to a darker world of drugs and sex. Previously seen last year during the Bush's inaugural "Naked Talent" season of new writers, the two-hander stars Fiona Bell and Mark Monero, directed by Bush artistic director Mike Bradwell.

The Bush's current, sell-out production of Richard Bean's The God Botherers finishes its limited season this Saturday, 20 December 2003.

- by Terri Paddock