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Mercury Company Celebrates Tenth Year

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Colchester’s Mercury Theatre is celebrating its tenth anniversary during the summer and autumn of 2009 and, as one would expect of Dee Evans (the theatre’s chief executive and artistic director), there’s a fascinating programme mix to mark it.

The opening in-house production is Depot by Gari Jones, a promenade performance in the old Tram Shed which draws on real-life stories from Colchester’s past. As this is England’s oldest recorded town, whose Roman veteran settlement was torched by Boudicca, and Norman castle bitterly contested during the Civil War, such tales lie thick on the ground. Depot plays between 23 September and 11 October.

That’s followed on 5 November by the 1981 Ingmar Bergman adaptation of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, here called Nora. Sue Lefton directs a cast which includes Kate Copeland as the heroine of this searing domestic drama with its prototypical feminist ending. Bergman’s intention was to open up the action, so that we are no longer simply in a claustrophobic living-room in 19th century Norway. The run ends on 21 November.

Two years ago, the Mercury collaborated successfully with Tina Packer of the US ensemble Shakespeare and Company for an all-woman production of Julius Caesar and an all-male Coriolanus. Between 18 and 28 November Packer herself takes to the Studio stage with Nigel Gore in Anthony Vivis’s translation of Through the Leaves by Franz Xaver Kroetz. The production is by Kate Bouchard and the play is a seminal work in the 1970s German realist movement in the theatre, akin to our own kitchen-sink tendency a decade earlier.

Cinderella – “the most romantic of all the fairytales” according to Dee Evans – is this year’s pantomime from 4 December to 9 January. It’s written and directed by Janice Dunn and designer Sally Howard promises “a winter wonderland”. The Wicked Stepmother remains as the traditional Dame role ({Tim Treslove}) but both the Ugly Sisters are to be played by women members of the company. Ian Kendall, last year’s Dick Whittington, is this year’s Prince Charming

Visiting companies bring a flavour of old-time radio and television to the Mercury’s stage. Last of the Summer Wine – The Moonbather is written by Roy Clarke, script-writer for the television series, and stars Ruth Madoc, Tony Adams and Steven Pinder. It’s the first stage adaptation from the series and is directed by Chris Jordan running from 17 to 22 August. Then there’s Round the Horne – Unseen and Uncut which uses the original scripts by Barry Took and Marty Feldman and re-creates the old BBC Paris studio used for the broadcasts. It’s a co-production between the Mercury and Ian Fricker and goes on to a national tour from Colchester.

Porridge is being dished out from 19 to 24 September as Shaun Williamson takes to the stage as prison inmate Fletcher in Gavin McAlinden’s production of the new play by the script-writers of the original television series, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. It premieres, of course, at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage on 28 August. You can enjoy a Fatal Encounter between 18 and 23 January – should you be thinking that far ahead – with the thriller by Francis Durbridge, author of the Paul Temple series. It’s about an accidental shooting, a false confession and the whole mess of complications which follow.

Other short-run shows include Re:Design by Craig Baxter which dramatises the exchange of letters between Charles Darwin and the Harvard professor Asa Gray. This comes from the Menagerie Company of Cambridge and visits the Mercury as part of a national tour on 16 and 17 September. A month later, the Studio hosts a co-production between the Mercury, the Watford Palace Theatre and the Bush Theatre in Hammersmith, from 22 to 24 October.

This is Jack Thorne’s 2nd May 1997</>, about the human cost of national political change. It comes from the new writing company Nabokov. You may have seen their chilling Terre Haute in April 2007. Helter Skelter and Land of the Dead is a double-bill by Neil LaBute directed by Patricia Benecke. The Mercury and the Bush are once more co-producers, this time in association with Dialogue Productions and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford. Two nights only – 22 and 23 January – in the Studio.


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