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New Work and Live Recordings at Bury St Edmunds This Autumn

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Script-in-hand performances of neglected late 18th and early 19th century plays have become an established part of the programme at Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal and in other historic buildings in the town. They have become increasingly popular with audiences, and now the concept is being taken to a halfway-house between minimally-rehearsed reading and fully-staged production.

On 29 September the theatre becomes a broadcasting studio, complete with live audience. The play is Thomas Holcroft’s 1795 comedy The Deserted Daughter, given previously in a Restoring the Repertoire reading in 2006. Time slips into reverse on 11 October with The Fair Penitent by Nicholas Rowe. In 1702 it introduced a character whose name has since become a byword – Lothario – and its theme of so-called honour killing resonates still, as it did for the 2008 reading.

George Colman the Younger wrote The Heir at Law with its would-be sage Dr Pangloss in 1797. The Restoring the Repertoire reading was in 2008; this live recording is on 17 November. Susannah Centlivre (1669-1723) as well as being a popular actress – especially in trouser roles – wrote 20 plays between 1700 and her death. A Bold Stroke for a Wife is generally considered the best of these and will be presented in the same format early in 2012.

Artistic director Colin Blumenau, announcing the autumn and winter season at the Theatre Royal, drew attention to its audience figures – averaging 72 per cent capacity with some 90,000 people attending performances. As with most regional theatres, the annual pantomime accounts for some 30 per cent of these figures.

Newly-appointed executive director Simon Daykin admitted that cuts in public funding allied to the effect of the economic recession on ordinary playgoers have had their effect, but that the Theatre Royal is seen to “punch above its weight”; acceptance as a National Portfolio Organisation by the Arts Council with guaranteed funding for three years from April 2012 is therefore particularly welcome.

A legacy to support the theatre’s work in memory of keen theatregoers John and Molly Cheston and sponsorship of the autumn season by the Marriott Motor Group were gratefully acknowledged, as was council support. Lynn Whitehead, who heads the creative learning unit, emphasised that the theatre’s work with 17 different participatory groups covering all ages across west Suffolk often goes unsung but is of vital importance. Making productions accessible to the hearing and visually impaired is this autumn supported by the Cambridge University Press.

Although there is no full-staged Georgian play production in this new season, past history does canter onto the scene with Dick Turpin’s Last Ride. Daniel O’Brien (now, who could that possibly be?) has written the script which uses contemporary documentary evidence to disentangle the story of the not-so-chivalrous highwayman from the romantic legends which have accrued to his name, partly thanks to the 19th century novelist WH Ainsworth.

Directed by Abigail Anderson and with music by Pat Wymark it runs at the theatre from 15 to 24 September and again from to 5 November. In between, it visits Greenwich, Southampton, Margate, Ipswich, Eastbourne and Guildford with other dates and theatres still to be confirmed. As we are increasingly seeing across this region, funding cuts are encouraging co-productions with both producing theatres and individual production companies. One example of this is John Godber’s new comedy The Debt Collectors (4 to 8 October). Godber’s plays are popular with the Bury St Edmunds audience; he now runs his own eponymous theatre company and this production is in association with Wakefield’s Theatre Royal.

Shakspeare’s Globe on Tour counts Bury st Edmunds among its regular dates. This year it’s As You Like It, between 5 and 10 September. Fascinating Aida take The Cheap Flight Tour on 28 September while New Perspectives and Scamp Theatre combine to present Those Magnificent Men – aviation pioneers Alcock and Brown – on 13 and 14 October.

Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company and the Salisbury Playhouse stage The Little Red Hen as a half-term treat from 27 to 29 October. Ballet Theatre UK return between 14 and 16 November with The Snow Queen from the Hans Christian Andersen tale with choreography by Christopher Moore. Then it’s panto time! 25 November sees Dick Whittington and his Cat looking for fame and fortune in medieval London, and taking on Queen Rat in the process. Peter Wright has written the music and Will Hargreaves is the designer. The run ends on 15 January.


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