New season: Theatre Royal BuryStEdmunds

Someone at the fine East Anglian venue of Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal has an excellent contacts book. For, faced with a restoration appeal running into millions of pounds, they have managed to persuade the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Timothy West, Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Prunella Scales to a gala fundraising night on April 24.

Someone at the fine East Anglian venue of Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal has an excellent contacts book.

For, faced with a restoration appeal running into millions of pounds, they have managed to persuade the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Timothy West, Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry and Prunella Scales to a gala fundraising night on April 24.

Don't reach for the credit card to book just yet, though, because the show sold out within hours.

There is, however, a chance to catch up with three more stars, who are in conversation with Sir Jeremy Isaacs (Channel 4 founder and Royal Opera House stalwart) in three fundraising evenings.

Down-to-earth soprano Lesley Garrett will appear on March 20, with Dame Janet Baker on April 3 and Sir Thomas Allen on April 10. Tickets range from £5-£20, with post-show champagne reception tickets at £30.

And there's plenty more to enjoy too at the Westgate Street venue.

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Traditional panto Beauty and the Beast, running until January 16, dominates the schedules for the first month.

From February 1-5 cabaret stars Kit and the Widow join forces with Fascinating Aida's Dillie Keane for a revival of Tomfoolery, a revue based on the blistering satirical songs of the great Tom Lehrer (matinees on Wednesday and Saturday, tickets £6-£16.50 depending on show).

Unlike many other venues, the theatre is keen to develop its own productions for national tour. This season's production is the charming Alfred Shaughnessy play Old Herbaceous (February 22-23, £7-£14.50). Starring Christopher Robbie, this is the nostalgic and enchanting story of an old gardener recalling the changes at the country house where he has worked, man and boy.

Acclaimed company Northern Broadsides are regular (and welcome) visitors to Bury, and they are back from March 8-12. As usual, they'll be presenting their distinctive take on Shakespeare, with a production this time of The Comedy of Errors. But they will also be slipping in two performances of Alan Plater's boozy comedy about the Bard, Sweet William. Tickets range from £6 to £16.50.

The theatre presents the world premiere of April De Angelis' Talking to Terrorists (April; 21-23, £7-£16.50), a hard-hitting play which tries to understand that ever-present question: why do people carry out such atrocities?

Henry Oguike Dance Company present their new works at the venue on March 24, with pieces set to music as varied as The Messiah and Japanese taiko drums (£7-£14.50).

And talking about music, celebrated British jazz couple Cleo Laine and John Dankworth will be in concert on April 12 (£9-£25).

Norman Tebbit forged a reputation as one of Margaret Thatcher's toughest-talking allies during her historic premiership. Hear the politician talk about the cut and thrust of government during those years in typically outspoken style on February 24 (£8-£15.50).

Classical music with the stuffiness removed and fun added is promised with the inventive string trio Pluck, who'll be working their way through musical from Bach to the Beatles on February 25 (£8-£15.50).

Family treats include a half-term production of Hansel and Gretel (February 11-16), The Magician's Daughter (February 19), Hippity Hop (February 21-22), Clown (March 25-26), Stone Soup (March 29) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (April 16).

There's also a chance (young and old) to strut your stuff in a series of workshops from February 14-18 called Let's Dance Too!

Country fans are not forgotten, with Gerry Smith's long-running Sunday shows bringing favourites such as Raymond Froggatt (January 23), Bob Brolly (February 20) and Irish stars the Indians (April 17) to the venue.

The theatre will also be screening a range of arthouse films, including Suffolk-set I Capture the Castle (March 22), hard-hitting Spanish drama Bad Education (February 17) and that wonderful Sofia Coppola film Lost in Translation (April 11).

There are plenty of chamber music, am-dram productions and more to enjoy too.

More information from the Theatre Royal box office on 01284 769505

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