New season: Maddermarket Theatre

Trevor Heaton The Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich has announced its new-season line-up - and has its eyes very much on the future.

Trevor Heaton

The Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich has announced its new-season line-up - and has its eyes very much on the future.

A generous donation from its Friends organisation means that by the time you read this the St John's Alley venue will be able to boast a new computerised ticket booking system.

And it has embarked on fundraising for its ambitious project to build The Drum, a proposed new 70-seater studio theatre next to the main building. The project will cost from £300,000 to £500,000, depending on the option chosen.

At the heart of any venue, though, is a good and varied programme - and the Maddermarket works hard to deliver that all year round.

The in-house productions which help give the venue its special flavour continue. The Christmas production, which runs December 18-23, 26-30 and January 1-3, is Merlin and the Cave of Dreams. Charles Way's version of the Arthurian legend was nominated for a Helen Hayes award for Outstanding New Play in 2004, and tells the story of the magician who must overcome challenges to help guide the young Arthur to his destiny. On December 19 there's an extra event (tickets £4, 6pm) when wardrobe mistress Amanda Greenway is joined by director of productions Peter Sowerbutts for a discussion about how a Maddermarket show is staged, from a costumier's perspective.

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Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers (January 22-31), edited by Terence Brady and Charlotte Bingham, is stage version of one of the biggest-selling books of the Eighties, a tale of family life which has sold more than five million copies. While recuperating after a heart attack, Penelope Keeling looks back over her life, and takes comfort in a painting by her father, which is pivotal in a tangled tale of family life and love.

You can't go wrong with Alan Ayckbourn - and Bedroom Farce (February 19-28) is one of his best. Three bedrooms are presented simultaneously on stage, and the action flows freely between them as four couples experience an eventful night.

A grittier subject is explored in Ariel Dorfman's acclaimed drama Death and the Maiden (March 19-28). Paulina Escobar lives in a new South American democracy - but 15 years previously she was blindfolded and tortured as a political prisoner. Could the mysterious stranger who offers to help when her husband's car breaks down be her torturer? Ariel Dorfman's play was written in 1991, and was turned into a film by Roman Polanski in 1994.

Local playwright Roger Parsley's lively adaptation of one of the best-loved books of them all runs from April 23-May 2. His adaptation of Pride and Prejudice features all the main Jane Austen characters, including Mrs Bennet, the haughty Mr Darcy, the flighty Lydia, the pompous Mr Collins - and the resourceful Elizabeth Bennet.

And make a note in your diary for these 2009 shows: Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables (May 21-30), Habeus Corpus by Alan Bennett (June 18-27), She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (July 23-August 1), Deathtrap by Ira Levin (August 20-29), The Accrington Pals by Peter Whelan (September 17-26), Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde (October 22-31) and I Am A Camera, by John van Druten (November 19-28).

Tickets for all these shows are £12-£8. There are no shows on Sundays, and there's a 2.30pm matinee on the final Saturday of each run.

Complementing the in-house productions are visiting acts, and the new season features a selection of new attractions and some firm favourites making a return.

Paul Jones and Dave Kelly will be bringing the best sort of New Year blues on January 7 (£12), bringing their immense experience and love of country-blues to bear. The pair return to the venue on March 4 (£18) as part of the crowd-pleasing the Blues Band, formed in 1979 and gigging ever since.

Enjoy a taste of “rockney” with - who else? - Chas and Dave on January 9 (£18.50). The duo have been in the business for more than 30 years and know how to deliver an entertaining evening, with the likes of Gertcha, Rabbit Rabbit, The Sideboard Song and Ain't No Pleasing You in their armoury.

Mind you, they'll have to go some to match the length of career of the venue's next visitors - the Barron Knights. The comedy-musical comedy has made them firm favourites since they began back in (amazingly) 1960. All seats are £13 for the March 3 show.

The story of self-destructive jazz trumpeter Chet Baker has inspired the new production by Mike Maran. A Funny Valentine (March 5, £12, concs £10), is an evening of theatre and jazz (suitable for over-15s).

No prizes for guessing whose music the tribute act T.Rexstasy play, and the band has been touring its much-acclaimed show for 13 years now. The show - a must for glam-rock fans - runs on March 6 (£15).

Girls' Night (March 7, £12, concs £10) is exactly that, a funny and tuneful show about five friends who re-live their past through such dance-round-your-handbag classics as I Will Survive, It's Raining Men and Girls Just Want to Have Fun. The production is staged by the Transaction theatre Company.

Actress and singer Caroline Fields - as heard on Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night - pays tribute to the gentle humour of an entertainment favourite on April 1 (£12, concs £10).

The Best of Joyce Grenfell sees Caroline (accompanied by David Carter at the piano) recreate such sketches and songs as A Terrible Worrier, The Old Girls' Reunion, Stately as a Galleon, and many more.

The Animals and Friends (April 2, £15) features the latest incarnation of the British group which stormed the US charts with their multi-million seller House of the Rising Sun. They will be featuring the likes of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and We Gotta Get Out of This Place.

The Maddermarket was just about the first venue in the region to feature the Locrian Ensemble, and the musicians' winning mix of popular classics performed in 18th-century costume has proved a winner ever since. They are back on April 3 (£15) with Haydn at 200 - A London Notebook, featuring the works of a composer who helped shape so much of the form of classical music ever since.

Mike Hall brings his band Classic Clapton to the venue the following evening for a tribute to guitar legend, drawing on his solo material, plus stints with the Bluesbreakers, Cream, the Yardbirds, and Derek and the Dominoes. Tickets £12.50.

“Grumpy Old Man” Arthur Smith presents An Audience With... on April 8 (£15) in which - rest assured - he'll be setting the world to rights! East Norfolk Operatic Society are back for their usual early-May visit. This time round (May 6-9) they'll be putting on that G&S favourite The Mikado (£10, £8, matinee £9, £7).

t 01603 620917 box office www.maddermarket.co.uk