New season: Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

Trevor Heaton Georgian gem Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal unveils its latest season, as TREVOR HEATON reports.

Trevor Heaton

It's been a good autumn for Theatre Royal lovers - whether you prefer the Norwich or the Bury versions. Both have reopened after multi-million pound refits, giving a major entertainment boost to the region.

The Bury version, one of the most historic theatres in the country, is in Westgate Street, a few minutes' walk from Angel Hill, and is about to launch its second season following its refurbishment.

The fun starts from January 29-February 2 with the Red Shift Theatre Company's contemporary take on the Bard's Much Ado About Nothing. The critically-acclaimed production relocates the comedy to the turmoil of Yugoslavia in 1991, giving respect for the text and taking outrageous liberties in equal measure.

Murderous musical mystery A Knife At The Opera runs on February 6, featuring the Welsh Clouseau - Det Insp Gethin Gumshoe - and six prime suspects from the operatic underworld (all played by acclaimed virtuosic mezzo soprano Buddug Verona James) as the diva finally gets her revenge on the critics. (£20.50-£7)

On February 8 it's that great stand-up Jeremy Hardy. Veteran of BBC Radio 4's News Quiz and several series of Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation, as well as regular appearances on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (where his singing is a, er, legend), QI and Grumpy Old Men, this is acerbic and sharply-observed (and adults-only) wit of the highest order.

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Step back top the 1920s and 30s with the joyous sounds of the The Piccadilly Dance Orchestra the following evening. Now in its 20th year, it has appeared at the Savoy and Raffles hotels, at Bafta award parties, society birthday bashes, royal functions and on many BBC radio shows - in short, the perfect band to get everybody in the mood!

Country favourite Raymond 'Froggy' Froggatt is in concert at 6pm on February 10 (£14, £10), followed (February 12-16) by a great half-term family treat, Charlotte's Web - adapted by Joseph Robinette from the book by EB White. Can Charlotte the spider save Wilbur the pig's bacon? This is - in the words of the EDP's own review - a 'colourful and captivating production' which is suitable for ages five and upward. Tickets £14.50-£7, with nine performances over the run.

One of the world's greatest bass baritones is in concert on February 17. Sir Willard White presents his own special portrait of that legendary singer Paul Robeson in a performance accompanied by Neil Thornton (piano) and Richard Bolton (guitar). Tickets £30-£7.

On February 21 and 22, there's appearances by one of the biggest-selling British female singers of her generation, Elkie Brooks. After starting out (alongside Robert Palmer) in blues outfit Vinegar Joe, she forged a hugely successful solo career with such songs as Pearl's A Singer, Don't Cry Out Loud and Sunshine After The Rain. Tickets £25-£17.50

The People's Theatre Company present the entertaining family show The Witch's Bogey on February 23. Make sure you sign up for the included-in-the-ticket-price workshop which runs before the show, being performed twice on this day. £11.50-£7.

Ronald Harwood's wonderful and affectionate play The Dresser is presented by the Compass Theatre Company from February 26-March 1. It's 1942 and the lights are going out all over Europe as bombs rain down. In a provincial theatre 'Sir', lion of the stage, is about to make his 227th appearance as King Lear. But Sir is beginning to unravel and only his devoted dresser, Norman stands between the actor and oblivion.

Prepare to be inspired on March 12 when the London Community Gospel Choir shows the style which has brought it to perform at Glastonbury, record World Cup anthems and appear on the soundtrack for The Lion King. It's an infectious celebration of gospel, swing-beat, R'n'B and soul.

March 20 sees journalist, writer and broadcaster Will Self present 'An Audience With…'. Best known for his fantastic novels set in seemingly parallel universes, which include Great Apes, Cock and Bull, How the Dead Live, Dorian and The Book of Dave, the evening features readings, stories and a wealth of anecdotes drawn from his colourful career.

Veteran comic Barry Cryer teams up with his I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue colleague Colin Sell for his Still Alive show on March 22. Expect two hours of gags galore and anecdotes by the container-load. Tickets £25-£7.

More laughter will be following on March 30 and 31 when that much-loved poet Pam Ayres presents her Surgically Enhanced show to tie in with her latest book, plus favourites from her 30-year-plus career including, no doubt, that dental lament! Tickets £25-£7.

Nitro & Octagon Theatre, Bolton join forces from April 7-9 for The Wedding Dance, a passionate new love story with dance and music set in Havana and London (£20.50-£7).

On April 11-12 the Fitzwilliam Chamber Opera presents Xerxes, Handel's sparkling operatic comedy of love, disguise and mistaken identity, followed from April 15-19 by Irving Stage Company's take on Stephen Sondheim's musical thriller Sweeney Todd (£15-£6).

Modern theatrical phenomenon ART is taken out to small venues around the county in the latest Theatre Royal Community Tour from April 17-May 31. Yasmina Reza's play, translated by Christopher Hampton, is a witty study of art and friendship.

Meanwhile, back at the theatre itself, the season rounds off from April 21-26 with A Week of Georgian Delights, featuring drama, music, readings and lectures in its Regency auditorium.

And there's plenty more, with concerts, country music, visiting productions and am-dram performances…

t Tickets for all shows £22.50 to £7 unless stated. 01284 769505

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