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PUBLISHED: 08:39 15 February 2011

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Drama, comedy, musicals, kids shows and a dance extravaganza, this spring offers something for everyone on Norwich's stages. SIMON PARKIN picks what not to miss.

DRAMA BIG HITTERS

An uplifting tale exploring the strong bonds of friendship GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM runs the Theatre Royal (March 9-12) and aims to capture the power and emotion of the classic novel, which is 30 years old this year.

It follows the story of William Beech who is evacuated to the countryside during the build-up to the Second World War and builds up a friendship with the elderly recluse Tom Oakley. All goes well until William is summoned back to London and the bonds of the pair’s friendship face an incredible strain.

The brand new production has been adapted for the stage by the National Children’s Dramatist David Wood and is directed by Angus Jackson, whose other work includes David Hare’s The Power Of Yes for the National Theatre and the BBC4 Bafta-nominated film Elmina’s Kitchen.

The all-male Shakespeare company Propeller renowned for its vibrant versions of the Bard’s plays return to the Theatre Royal (February 15-19) with another double-bill featuring RICHARD III and THE COMEDY OF ERRORS follow-ing their previous successful run at in 2009. Both productions will also be directed once again by the company’s highly-acclaimed artistic director Edward Hall, who also directed several episodes of ITV’s hit Norfolk-set Sunday night series Kingdom.

Sexism and political correctness take centre stage in a provocative drama by one of America’s greatest living playwrights in OLEANNA at the Maddermarket Theatre (February 17-26).

David Mamet’s play portrays the devastating fall-out when a liberal-minded college professor is confronted with a charge of sexual harassment from a vulnerable female student with a hidden agenda.

The Maddermarket spring season continues with a real Shakespearean oddity, DOUBLE FALSEHOOD (March 17-26) a play that was first performed in 1727 when impresario Lewis Theobald claimed it was adapted from a Shakespeare play. Having been discarded for 300 years, the romantic tragic-comedy’s credentials were last year revived by the Arden Shakespeare series.

Also at the Maddermarket will be a revival of Alan Bennett’s FORTY YEARS (April 14-23), the public school-set comedy that when first performed confirmed Bennett’s status as Britain’s best loved writer.

One of the most intriguing stage occurrences this spring will be Owen Evans, best known as one half of Norfolk’s much-loved comedy duo The Nimmo Twins, returning to his roots as a serious character actor in a new play penned by Rob John.

ONE EIGHTY at Norwich Playhouse (April 14-16) sees Owen playing a former darts genius Norman ‘Rhino’ Hamilton who has fallen from grace.

Once ranked 4th in the world and enjoying a life of C-List fame and fortune, Norman sees it all fall through fingers when his best mate, wife and throwing action all desert him on the same night. After four years in the wilderness and spurred on by two extraordinary women, he prepares for a make or break comeback both as a player and as a man. A sad comedy about love and redemption, One Eighty is being produced by fEast Theatre, a new Norfolk-based theatre company committed to new work by writers, actors and directors.

Cult puppet musical AVENUE Q, which was a smash hit on both the West End and Broadway, also promises to be a hilariously fascinating experience when it arrives at the Theatre Royal (March 15-19) as part of its first UK tour. Set on a downtown New York street, the gloriously politically incorrect follows the loveably hopeless residents who try to make sense of life’s burning issues like love, work, relationships and how to pay the bills.

Following a sell-out success at the Chichester Festival and a run in the West End, the stage adaptation of the BBC political sit-com YES, PRIME MINSTER is also at the Theatre Royal (May 2-7). An updating by original writer Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, it once again follows the fortunes of hapless PM Jim Hacker but this time in the age of Twitter and 24-hour news.

DANCE EXTRAVAGANZAS

A visit to the Theatre Royal of Matthew Bourne is fast becoming the must see of the year and this spring he’s bringing his reworked revival of CINDERELLA (March 22-26), set during the Blitz, where Cinders falls for a dashing RAF pilot only to be separated from her potential paramour at the roar of the air-raid siren.

First seen in the West End in 1997, but now completely revised in this brand new production created to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Blitz, it features designs by Olivier Award-winning Lez Brotherston.

Prokofiev’s magnificent score stays intact but we’re promised surround sound for a cinematic experience from sound designer Paul Groothius, taking the audience into the heart of music and the sound world of war-torn London.

Cinderella is both a tribute and a testament to the spirit of London during a time when every second counted and lives were changed forever.

Bourne’s vivid storytelling has never been more heart-stopping and touching, creating a unique and unforgettable depiction of a familiar and beloved fable.

Also always hugely anticipated is the visit of RICHARD ALSTON DANCE. The company’s 2011 programme at the Theatre Royal (March 1-1) will include Even More a new work from the acclaimed choreographer that celebrates the contrasts of Prokofiev’s brilliantly complex sixth Piano Sonata.

The piece aims to capture the ever-changing moods of Prokofiev’s sonata which is warm one minute and quick-tempered the next. To add to the mood of the piece, it will also be played live on stage by acclaimed pianist Jason Ridgway, who has performed with the likes of the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

The Norwich programme also includes Alston’s contemporary classic Roughcut which is set to the music of Steve Reich’s New York and Electric Counterpoints for clarinet and guitar. Created in 1990, it has been a smash-hit with audiences who love its pure energy. Also to be performed is Martin Lawrence’s Lie of the Land which is danced to the String Quartet No 4 by modern American composer Ned Rorem.

Britain’s Got Talent graduates FLAWLESS will put on the inspirationally titled Chase The Dream when they also visit the Theatre Royal (April 4) — there should be plenty of hollering for these talented London boys, who were technically superior to their TV rivals.

They’ve previously starred in the hit film StreetDance 3D and worked with some of the biggest names in the business including Madonna, Beyoncé and Leona Lewis.

Amateur dance continues to go from strength to strength in Norwich with some local talent like Heather Eddington going on to big things. And there will be a chance to see another crop of young upcoming dancers and choreographers when Norfolk Dance stages TURNSTYLE 8 at Norwich Playhouse (April 7). The programme is a showcase of original work choreographed and performed by dancers of all ages from across the county.

Meanwhile the Michala Jane School of Dance return to the Theatre Royal stage with a stellar performance of A SPACE ODYESSY (April 10). Over 250 performers from the school will shine in shimmering interplanetary dance routines inspired by Homer’s classic tale the Odyssey.

The Theatre Royal stage will also again be transformed into a ice rink when the Imperial Ice Stars return with a dynamic new interpretation of their award-winning masterpiece SWAN LAKE ON ICE (April 26-30).

With Tchaikovsky’s glorious music, exhilarating new choreography and dazzling new costumes, this innovative portrayal of the classic love story will include 26 World, European and National Championship skaters, who between them hold more than 250 competition medals.

SHOWS FOR ALL THE FAMILY

Children are spoilt for choice this spring with some of the biggest names and brightest talent determined to entertain them. What’s a sure fire February half-term winner is seeing Shaun the Sheep and his friends in their very own live show SHAUN’S BIG SHOW at the Theatre Royal (February 21-28).

Shaun is stage-struck and has decided to put on a very special performance for all his friends, so get ready for some fabulous madcap mayhem as they dance and prance their way through a series of wonderful adventures under the nose of the short-sighted Farmer.

At Norwich Playhouse, Blunderbus Theatre Company will be staging THE DRAGON’S DAUGHTER (February 26-27), a magical tale of adventure and friendship set, like all good fairytales, in a faraway land. With bewitching music and puppets, it’s a funny and moving story about a brave little boy and a scared little dragon, who grow to become the very best of friends.

The Mexican Day of the Dead is a scary day for a boy with two dead parents and an overactive imagination in Flor De Muerto at Norwich Playhouse (March 10), a coming-of-age story told with the warmth, joy and colour told using original music and inventive puppetry.

Michael Rosen’s award-winning book WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT will be brought vividly and noisily to the stage in a fun-filled adaptation at Norwich Playhouse (March 19-20). Set to a versatile, lively score from the team who created The Gruffalo stage show it sees the intrepid adventurers set off on their quest to find a bear.

Expect catchy songs, interactive scenes and plenty of hands-on adventure — plus a few special surprises.

Hugely popular with both adults and children alike is HORRIBLE HISTORIES are the stage adaptation returns to the Theatre Royal with two new shows The Awful Egyptians and The Ruthless Romans (March 28-April 1). Using actors and ground-breaking 3D special effects, they bring historical figures and events will come alive on stage.

From the fascinating Pharaohs to the power of the pyramids, The Awful Egyptians is a chance to discover the foul facts of death and decay with the meanest mummies in Egypt, while The Ruthless Romans involves everything from evil Emperors to the gruesome gladiators.

As usual there is a host of family shows at Norwich Puppet Theatre including THE THREE BILLYGOATS GRUFF AND OTHER FURRY TAILS (February 21), set in the magic land of three; LITTLE RED ROBIN HOOD (April 20), a merry mix up in the forest involving glove puppets, false teeth and a frying pan, and PETER AND THE WOLF (April 15-16) where Rob and his suitcase full of surprises travel into deepest darkest Russia to old man Prokofiev’s house in the woods, where lives the big, hungry Wolf.

Norwich Arts Centre meanwhile hosts the return of Indigo Moon Theatre’s ALICE & THE WHITE RABBIT (February 23) which uses shadow theatre techniques to tell Lewis Carroll’s story, and award-winning author Oliver Jeffers’ intergalactic adventure THE WAY BACK HOME (March 27).

OFFBEAT TREATS

Ever think you could come up with a better plot? SHOWSTOPPER! THE IMPROVISED MUSICAL which is visiting Norwich Playhouse (February 18) is created from scratch at each performance using audience suggestions help to create a show on the spot, as the all-singing, all-dancing cast improvise with unpredictable and frequently hilarious results.

One thing is constant though, the award-winning production, which has played sell-out seasons in London’s West End and at the Edinburgh festival, is packed with drama, dance routines and catchy melodies that will leaves you singing all the way home.

Adapted for the stage from the novel by CS Lewis by Nigel Forde, award-winning satirical comedy THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS will be performed at Norwich Playhouse (March 22). Set in Professor Screwtape’s study in the timeless dominion of Hell, the play follows his attempts to train two junior devils, including his protégé Wormwood, the play remains faithful to the original text, characters and themes created by Lewis.

Also at the Playhouse, A DISH OF TEA WITH DOCTOR JOHNSON (April 4) is adapted from the writings of James Boswell and directed by Max Stafford-Clark. One of the most colourful figures of the 18th century, Samuel Johnson — poet, essayist, compiler of the first English dictionary —is brought to life through the characters from his life, from biographer James Boswell and painter Joshua Reynolds, to the society hostess who was Johnson’s final, unrequited, love.

Two young soldiers make the most of a drunken night out with their friends before they leave for active service in Iraq in Days Of SIGNIFICANCE, a powerful drama staged to be staged by the Theatre Royal Youth Company at the Open Studio (April 7-9).

Once there, their complex love-lives and mortal fears impact directly on their tour of duty, and reveal how the naive and malformed moral codes of these young men have catastrophic effects. Written in response to Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, this explosive and thought-provoking play offers a fresh insight into the consequences of modern warfare.

Music icons provide the inspiration for two offbeat productions. Edith Piaf has become synonymous with French Cabaret of the 1940s and 50s and remains France’s most popular singer. Her life, however, was anything but ‘La Vie en Rose’. She suffered insecurity, self-abasement, anger, obsessive passion and a constant quest to be loved and accepted. In PIAF at Norwich Playhouse (May 28), French singer Eve Loiseau captures the essence of the Piaf performance in this tribute to the Little Sparrow, a play with songs which includes many of her beloved songs accompanied Eddy Jay on accordion and Fiona Barrow on fid-dle.

Meanwhile in ME MARLEY AND I at the Norwich Arts Centre (June 15) the music of reggae icon Bob Marley provides the backdrop to a political coming-of-age story. Written by and starring Yaw Asiyama, its the true-life account of survival, true love and friendship during an African military revolution.

AMATEUR STAGE

The Norwich amateur stage remains as vibrant as ever. A packed spring programme ranges from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde to Alan Ayckbourn and adult fairytales.

The Sewell Barn Theatre stages THE SHAKESPEARE REVUE (February 17-26) a totally unserious look at the world of Shakespeare, his plays and their actors, in a nostalgic revue format of songs and sketches.

Far more serious is their stage adaptation of EAST OF EDEN (March 24-April 2) John Steinbeck’s powerful parable explores the battle between good and evil with echoes of the Adam and Eve story.

And ahead of the major Theatre Royal production of the same story, they’ll also be tackling a new and shocking version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (April 28-May 7).

The Great Hall Players continue their 2011 season at the Assembly House with Alan Ayckbourn’s FLATSPIN (February 5) before staging Oscar Wilde’s ‘trivial comedy for serious people’ THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST (March 22-26), his best and most popular play.

Laughing Monkey will next weekend bring their belated take on the panto SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN SINS to the

Puppet Theatre (February 11-12).

Prince Dirk Charming is having a distinct lack of success in bagging the maiden of his dreams in a production that contains strong innuendo. If your parents disapprove…leave them at home!

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