New season: Norwich Playhouse

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor Norwich Playhouse has unveiled a bumper programme for its spring season. Event editor Trevor Heaton takes an exclusive peek at the new line-up.


Great names, great laughter and great music – that's the tempting blend of attractions for the new season at the Norwich Playhouse.

The likes of Barry Cryer, Rob Brydon, Prunella Scales, Tony Robinson and the Reduced Shakespeare Company head a packed list of comedy, music, drama and dance.

Comedy, as ever, is one of the strongest suits at the St George's Street venue. Perrier Award nominee Lee Mack gets the laughter off to a strong start on January 29 with his hit show from the Melbourne and Edinburgh comedy festivals, while February 4 sees Punt and Dennis bring their Grown Men – In Public tour to the venue, fresh from The Now Show (BBC Radio 4) and It's Been a Bad Week (BBC Radio 2).

The following day it's humour of the home-grown sort when Keith Skipper and pals present Squit in the City 2, following on from last year's sell-out night of squit, wit and plenty more.

Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out! (February 9) features the much-loved comic actor and television presenter. Having spent years of his working life as Baldrick in Blackadder uttering the phrase “I have a cunning plan!”, Tony came up with one of his own – a one-man show which takes in his time as history's greatest simpleton, “getting down to the archaeology” in Channel 4's hit series Time Team and his recent pongy trawl through The Worst Jobs in History.

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Two days later top stand-up Ed Byrne presents his new stand-up show, Me Again.

Comedy of a very different kind on February 12 with acclaimed mime and clown Nola Rae in her latest extraordinary show, Exit Napoleon Pursued by Rabbits, combining clowning, mime, puppetry, dance and music.

The Playhouse bids a warm welcome back to one of the great names in British comedy on April 29 and 30. Barry Cryer presents two more dates of his endless First Farewell Tour. Appearing, as ever, with fellow I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue stalwart Colin Sell, Barry promises a feast of razor-sharp one-liners – plus the legendary Barry's Bucket when he will wax humorous on subjects chosen by the audience.

Rob Brydon – in a show postponed from the current season – will be slipping into his unlucky-in-love persona in The Keith Barret Show (June 16). Brydon plays the hapless chauffeur who first found fame in the brilliant tragi-comedy Marion and Geoff.

The comedy season closes in style on June 23 with the brilliant Reduced Shakespeare Company, presenting its original hit show The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). With just three actors they will present all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in 97 minutes, including Hamlet performed backwards in half a minute! Find out why the Complete Works is London's longest-running comedy hit – but don't delay getting a ticket.

Also likely to be one of the hottest tickets of the season is Prunella Scales in her acclaimed role as Queen Victoria. In An Evening with Queen Victoria, Prunella – who with her husband Timothy West has been a friend of the Playhouse since its earliest days – will present an intimate portrait of the queen drawn from her own words. Prunella's portrayal is accompanied by music which would have been enjoyed by Victoria herself, performed by the celebrated tenor Ian Partridge and Richard Burnett on piano. The show, written and directed by Katrina Hendrey, is on June 11.

But the Playhouse's drama season begins back on January 21-22 with the first of two spring presentations by the locally-based Painted Horse Theatre Company. Hedda Gabler is Henrik Ibsen's story of longing, lost love and a fight against hypocrisy.

On March 5 the company presents a gritty production of Salome by Oscar Wilde, with powerful themes of betrayal, manipulation, passion and sex in the corrupt religious court of Herod. The production – aimed at an adult audience – contains nudity and powerful scenes which some people may find upsetting.

Drama of a gentler kind takes place a few days earlier, on February 26, when Christopher Robbie stars as Bert Pinnegar in Old Herbaceous. Adapted for the stage by Alfred (Upstairs, Downstairs) Shaughnessy, from the book by Reginald Arkell, the story tells the charming story of an old gardener reminiscing in his ramshackle greenhouse, an evocation of a time now gone.

On March 8 and 10, the Playhouse presents dramas as part of East Meets East, billed as the first international festival of Eastern European Theatre to be held in East Anglia.

New International Encounter presents My Long Journey Home on March 8, the hit 2004 Edinburgh Fringe show inspired by the true story of Andras Tomas, a Hungarian press-ganged into the German army in 1943 and discovered in a Russian hospital 53 years later. The humorous and moving show uses clowning, music, puppetry and 'a confusion of languages'.

Two days later Romanian theatre company Toaca presents Orpheus, based on the classical Greek myth and using songs and movement alongside minimal text.

Red Shift brings its acclaimed stage version of the Graham Greene classic The Third Man to the theatre on March 11-12. Adapted and directed by Jonathan Holloway (not the Norwich Festival one), it is set against the world of black marketeers in the chaos of post-war Vienna.

On March 19, ex-UEA student Louise Roche presents her latest feelgood show, Girls Behind. The writer – whose Girls Night was a sell-out at the venue – tells the story of the lives and loves of Sadie, Lois and Serena. Packed with “girl talk” and great songs, this is a chance to leave the blokes at home, ladies!

Talented youngsters from across the county form the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, and they'll be presenting the school edition of West End classic Les Misérables from April 5-9.

Theatre Albi has its new drama Close to Home on April 12, telling the tuneful story of three people with mysterious homing instincts.

Three days later acclaimed performer Mike Maran presents his latest adaptation with music of a literary classic – The Little World of Don Camillo.

More drama is lined up with The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis (May 16), The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (May 17), and the Norfolk and Norwich Threshold Theatre Group's production of Billy (June 1-4), a musical adaptation of Keith Waterhouse's classic novel Billy Liar.

Music has been a key element of the Playhouse programme for many years, with top-notch jazz well to the fore.

On January 13, top local musicians led by Kit Downes (piano) and George Crowley (saxophone) join forces in Jazz Tête à Tête in aid of the Norwich Cathedral appeal. Legendary trombonist Chris Barber brings his band to the venue on February 10, with music from trad to Miles Davis.

Grammy-nominated stride pianist Judy Carmichael – whose fans have included Count Basie and Sarah Vaughan – appears on March 4, with guest, the American trumpeter Randy Sandke.

From an established talent to one of the brightest new names on the scene on June 10 with the appearance of Ronnie Scott's regular Sheena Davis and her group.

Popular classics are represented by two popular returning attractions – Beverley Davison's Classical Cabaret with Hot Strings on March 18 and the Mediaeval Baebes on June 18.

Something very different on February 17 when acclaimed tribute act Think Floyd presents a concert presentation of music from The Wall, and The Michael Jackson Experience on April 21.

The Daniel Smith Blues Band are in town, too, on April 16.

Dance, too, is on the agenda with New Art Club's Electric Tales (April 19) and the return of the popular Natyapriya Dance Company on May 28 with their interpretation of Herman Hesse's Siddhartha.

More information and booking details from the Playhouse box office at Norwich Theatre Royal: 01603 598598.