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A dramatic Easter week on the Norfolk stage

PUBLISHED: 09:56 06 April 2012

Bette and Joan

Bette and Joan

Archant

This holiday week offers plenty of opportunities to put the drama into Easter. SIMON PARKIN previews shows not to miss, including the final Norwich visit of acclaimed Foursight Theatre.

BETTE AND JOAN: THE FINAL CURTAIN

Norwich Playhouse, April 7, £15 (£12.50 cons), 01603 598598, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk

After being favourites at the Norwich Playhouse for many years, Foursight Theatre, a female-led company which has been producing theatre for 25 years, takes its reluctant final last bow in the city.

The company is closing after this touring production after being unsuccessful in an application for Arts Council funding, making it one of at least 10% of companies hit by cuts in the last year to have closed, with another 22% in danger.

Formed in the late-1980s by graduates of Exeter University, Foursight has been producing exciting, vibrant theatre ever since; devising shows which view history through the eyes of women. Many of their productions have achieved great acclaim, particularly their 2006 satire Thatcher, The Musical!, which toured nationally for two years.

They are at least bowing out on a high with this wry, feisty and irreverent look at two of Hollywood’s greatest icons. On her deathbed, Bette Davis is forced by hacks Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons to finally confront the ghost of her nemesis, Joan Crawford. And, of course, just because someone’s dead doesn’t mean they’ve changed…

Davis died in 1989 at the age of 81. She fully lived the glamorous film star lifestyle, winning two Oscars and being nominated for 10, but beneath the gloss was a life strewn with the wrecks of four marriages, empty bottles and embittered children. One comforting thought for her at the time of her death might have been the knowledge that she had outlived her bitterest rival, Joan Crawford by 12 years.

These two icons of the silver screen only ever made one full film together, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, which shot the two fading stars from the twilight of their careers back in to the limelight - both them and the feud that supposedly existed between them.

This is a sharp, comic retelling of the battle for supremacy between these two larger-than-life characters, which enjoyed critical success at the Edinburgh Fringe last year.

SWEENEY TODD

Norwich Playhouse, April 11-14, £14 (£12 cons), 01603 589589, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk

The old phrase “the show must go on” is certainly apt for this latest musical from the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre as two of the principal actors have been determined to carry on with their roles despite battling pneumonia and a broken ankle.

Stephen Sondheim’s celebrated black comedy concerns the homicidal career of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet Street, falsely imprisoned by a judge who covets his young and tender wife. With the aid of his cut-throat razors, Sweeney exacts his timely and bitter revenge, cheerfully helped by the lovely Mrs Lovett, who’s only too willing to spice up her tasty meat-filled pies with new succulent flavours.

The gruesome tale has enjoyed a far from smooth rehearsal period as Callum Bicknell, who plays the title role, and Harriet Millsopp, who plays the cannibalistic Mrs Lovett.

Callum, 17, contracted pneumonia a few weeks after rehearsals started. Meanwhile Harriet, 19, took the old theatrical adage of ‘break a leg’ literally when she broke her ankle in three places and had to juggle rehearsals with physiotherapy sessions.

She said: “I really wanted the part and I limped into the audition. The walking boot came off in February and I can walk normally again now. I cannot wait for the show. I am so excited. The music is out of the world. It is just amazing how it is written — it is really cleverly done.”

This production is timely as a new West End production starring Michael Ball and Imelda Saunton has been getting rave reviews.

COMPANY ALONG THE MILE

Sewell Barn Theatre, Constitution Hill, Norwich, April 5-7/11-14, £8 (£6 cons), 01603 697248, www.sewellbarn.org

The latest production from the Sewell Barn is the amateur premiere of former UEA student Tom Bidwell’s complex dark comedy about love set in a seaside hotel.

A graduate of the BBC Writers Academy who has written for the soaps, Bidwell is a young writer of note. His film Wish 143 was nominated for a 2011 Oscar for the best live action short film.

This, his first stage play, was commissioned by the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2009 and occupies the same landscape of yearning and redemption found in the plays of Williams, Pinter and Orton.

Stella, a transvestite and lifestyle fantasist who insists on having sandwiches cut into triangles, pays the other main character, George, for his company each Wednesday in a Blackpool hotel room. Then they find a dead bellboy in their en suite. Suddenly the play turns into a seaside version of something by the Coen brothers as the pair plot to get rid of the body.

Both hilarious and poignant, the play has proved great fun to work on for the cast of three — Trevor Burton, Tom O’Sullivan and Tom Marshall — who are taking great delight in Bidwell’s fast-paced script.

Tracie Harris, Sewell Barn spokeswoman, said: “It can be commercially risky for theatres to stage new work, but we’re confident that the risk is well worth taking here, and that audiences will be rewarded by the work of a significant new voice.”

MURDER ON THE NILE

Marina Theatre, April 10-15, £25.50-£18.50 (£24.50-£17.50 cons), 01502 533200, www.marinatheatre.co.uk

On board an Egyptian steamer, honeymooners Simon Mostyn and his wealthy socialite wife Kay find themselves being pursued by an old flame of the newly wedded groom. Then tragedy strikes — a body is discovered, and all fingers point to Simon’s ex fiancée. But everything is not what it seems, and holidaying cleric Canon Pennefather is drawn into a web of intrigue and deceit as he finds himself on the trail of a ruthless murderer.

This stylish new staging of the queen of crime’s classic thriller is the latest production from the Agatha Christie Theatre Company.

The company was founded in 2005 by West End producer Bill Kenwright in partnership with the Agatha Christie estate as part of an initiative to preserve her popularity and introduce her to a younger audience.

Heading the cast is Kate O’Mara, prolific stage actress and star of Dynasty and Bad Girls, Denis Lill, whose extensive TV career recently includes ITV’s The Royal and Doctor Who, Susie Amy, star of Footballer’s Wives, Chloe Newsome, who played Vicky McDonald in Coronation Street, and Ben Nealon, fondly remembered from ITV’s Soldier Soldier.

CALENDAR GIRLS

Norwich Theatre Royal, April 6-7, 7.30pm (Sat 2.30pm/7.30pm), £29-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

Following an award-winning West End run and two previous sell-out weeks at the Theatre Royal, Calendar Girls is back for the last time and there are still three opportunities to catch it.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, it is the poignant and uplifting story of a group of Yorkshire WI women who decide to pose for a charity calendar with a difference.

They create a global buzz and end up revealing a lot more than they planned. The original Calendar Girl herself - Lynda Bellingham returns to the show for this final touring production, joining a cast that also includes Camilla Dallerup, Jan Harvey, Sue Holderness, Deena Payne, Lisa Riley, June Watson and Ruth Madoc with Kevin Sacre as Lawrence the photographer and Joe McGann as John.

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