New season: Norwich Playhouse

David Banks As ever at the Norwich Playhouse sheer variety plays a major role and Spring 2008 is no exception. DAVID BANKS lines up the main January to April events.

David Banks

The new season at Norwich Playhouse kicks off on Friday and Saturday January 11 and 12 with live action stage sitcom that combines film, theatre and international humour. The Coalition: Empire of the Pun is Axis of Evil's tale of mismatched flatmates Andy, Tom and The Yank. Can Andy turn The Yank into a very major model of a model male Englishman? Can The Yank stop William Shakespeare from stealing his play and his love interest? And will Tom ever find a job? (£9.50, £7.50)

One of the hottest names in comedy, Frankie Boyle, takes to the stage on Saturday and Sunday January 19 and 20. After two successful sell-out Edinburgh Festival runs, and hot from the fifth series of BBC2's Mock the Week, Boyle sets off on his first national tour with a taboo-busting show that is not for the sqeamish (£16.50).

Old favourite Acker Bilk arrives on Friday January 25 with his Paramount Jazz Band. Somerset-born clarinet-playing Acker has appeared with Humphrey Lyttelton, Van Morrison, the Dutch Swing College Band and long-running collaborations with Kenny Ball and Chris Barber. Expect music mixed with a few laughs (£17.50, £16).

Comedy's back the next night when Jason Byrne brings his new show Shy Pigs with Wigs, Hidden in the Twigs. The biggest-selling comedian of the 2007 Edinburgh Festival, tickets are likely to be in demand (£16.50).

There's more comedy on Saturday February 2 and 9 when Mark Watson inquires: Can I Briefly Talk to you about the Point of Life? 2006 Panel Prize Winner and Time Out's Number One Critics' Choice, Watson is back at the Playhouse after his sell-out visit this year.

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Since then he's made regular appearances on BBC2's Mock the Week, been in his own acclaimed Radio 4 series, published his second novel and been a hit at the Adelaide and Melbourne comedy festivals which led to a two-week run at the Sydney Opera House.

In between all this, he's written a brand new stand-up show (£15, £13).

On Thursday and Friday February 7 and 8 you can see The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) when the bard-busters the Reduced Shakespeare Company invite you to join them on a rollercoaster ride, putting the rattle'n'roll between Shake'n'speare and proving that there's no abridgement too far. Loosen your doublets and prepare to see all 37 of Shakespeare's plays in just 97 minutes, featuring Hamlet forwards, backwards and sideways, Titus Andronicus as a galloping gourmet and a rap Othello. (£16 £14).

Back at the Playhouse on Thursday February 14 is multi-award-winning UK saxophonist Courtney Pine, who with his sextet, presents Transition in Tradition: A Tribute to Sidney Bechet.

The legendary New Orleans clarinettist/saxophonist first inspired Courtney back in the early Eighties and by drawing on the legacy of this inspirational virtuoso, Pine is hoping to reflect on the medium of jazz as an ever-developing art (£24.50).

Romance is in the air on Saturday February 16 when comedian charming and mischievous comedian Lucy Porter invites you to her love-in where she examines every aspect of that crazy little thing called love (£14, £12)

One of comedy's hotly-tipped newcomers, Simon Brodkin, takes to the stage on Friday February 22 with his new show recreating an entire comedy club bill: five diverse stand-up acts all performed by just one man. (£12, £10).

The next day you can see Norfolk's own Classical Indian dancing group, Natyapriya, and poet and musician Samia Malik's collaboration Land of Hope, described as “an exploration of different women in different languages, and different countries, with one story” (£8.50, £6.50).

On Friday February 29 the “comedians' comedian” Stewart Lee is on the bill. Co-writer of Jerry Springer - The Opera, Ricky Gervais has called Lee “the funniest, most cliche-free comedian on the circuit” (£15, £13).

Now in its third year, Roger Dean sings The Johnny Cash Story and which makes its Playhouse debut. Hear A Boy Named Sue, Ring of Fire, Orange Blossom Special and I Walk the Line from Dean and the Lazy Boys. See them on March 1 (£13, £11).

It's the 10th anniversary tour for the Mediaeval Baebes who appear on Friday March 7. The bedazzling, Baebes promise to “seduce you with their interpretation of mediaeval music and poetry and transport you to an enchanting world very far from your own” (£17.50 £15).

The next day fellow performers pay tribute to Linda Smith, the much-missed comedian, writer and broadcaster who died in 2006. Celebrating Linda Smith has audio and visual clips from shows such as Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and Have I Got News For You and “a unique celebration in a great cause” (£15, £13 - which includes a donation to Ovarian Cancer Action).

On March 11 and 12 George Orwell's Animal Farm is performed - by just one man. Gary Shelford's solo performance of the classic satire uses a wooden box, sound effects and physical and vocal dexterity. £19-£7).

The evergreen Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen are in concert on Friday March 14 in their first visit to the Playhouse. Popular since the Sixties, Kenny is still playing more than 200 dates a year (£17.50, £16).

On March 28 you can enjoy a new

one-man show from one of the UK's favourite presenters and straight men. Nicholas Parsons: A Laugh a Minute sees Parsons sharing his experiences of the unpredictable and fascinating aspects of life and work across the showbiz spectrum (£15, £13).

April highlights include Henry Blofeld: An Evening with Blowers (April 9/10); the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (April 18); Abigail's Party (April 19) and ventriloquist Nina Conti (April 24).

The season ends with a bang on April 26 with Jerry Sadowitz. The title of his show - 'Comedian, Magician, Psychopath' - gives you an idea of what to expect from magic tricks to scurrilous put-downs and X-rated language (£17.50).

t The Norwich Playhouse box office is based at Norwich Theatre Royal. 01603 598598.

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