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7 must-see theatre shows for Spring 2020

PUBLISHED: 13:10 23 January 2020 | UPDATED: 13:19 23 January 2020

The Ballad of Maria Marten, by Beth Flintoff,  Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of the Red Barn murders gets a run at the New Wolsey in February. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

The Ballad of Maria Marten, by Beth Flintoff, Eastern Angles' exploration of the life of the Red Barn murders gets a run at the New Wolsey in February. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Mike Kwasniak Photography, 2018 - www.mikekwasniak.co.uk

Pantos may be still in full swing but Suffolk's theatres are quietly gearing up for their spring season. Actors are stepping out of their panto dame frocks, rehearsals are getting underway, preparing for a diverse array of productions to keep audiences entertained.

Here's a selection of the best shows on offer until Easter.

Shirley Valentine, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, January 31 - February 15

Willy Russell's classic play explores the story of Shirley, a housewife. Her kids have left home and she makes chips and egg for her husband whilst talking to the wall. Where has her life disappeared to? Out of the blue, her best friend offers her a trip to Greece for two weeks and she secretly packs her bags. She heads for the sun and starts to see the world, and herself, very differently.

Theatre Royal's own production of Shirley Valentine focuses on a rekindling of her childhood dreams and youthful love of life. Keddy Sutton stars in a revival of this vibrant comedy.

The Ballad of Maria Marten, Eastern Angles at the New Wolsey Theatre, from February 20-22

Eastern Angles' critically acclaimed production of Polstead gets a new name and a new lease of life as it goes on a UK tour. Elizabeth Crarer returns in the role of Maria Marten in Beth Flintoff's thrilling retelling of Suffolk's real-life murder mystery.

Summer, 1827. In a red barn Maria Marten awaits her lover. A year later her body is found under the floor of the barn in a grain sack, barely identifiable, and the manhunt begins.

Maria's story sent shock waves throughout the country. The Red Barn Murder (as it became known) was national news, inspiring writers and filmmakers down the ages. The sort of gruesome tale that had all the hallmarks of a classic crime drama - a missing body, a country location, a disreputable squire and a village stuck in its age-old traditions.

But in all this hysteria Maria's own story gets lost. Until now. Hal Chambers and Beth Flintoff's spine-tingling retelling rediscovers her story, bringing it back to vivid, urgent life.

Akram Kahn renews his association with DanceEast by premiering his latest work at the DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront in February  Photo: Richard HaughtonAkram Kahn renews his association with DanceEast by premiering his latest work at the DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront in February Photo: Richard Haughton

XENOS, Chotto Xenos; by Akram Khan, DanceEast, from February 21-22

How does war begin? And how does it end? It depends on who is telling the story.

Inspired by Akram Khan's award-winning full length solo XENOS, Chotto Xenos is a captivating dance production that takes young audiences back in time, exploring the often forgotten and untold stories of World War I colonial soldiers, in order to shine light on our present and future.

Reimagined by Sue Buckmaster, artistic director of Theatre-Rites and creator of the highly successful Chotto Desh, the premiere of Chotto Xenos weaves together stunning choreography by Akram Khan with a highly theatrical and dramatic setting. This family production incorporates Domenico Angarano's stirring soundtrack adapted from the original score, by Vincenzo Lamagna.

Chotto Xenos is for anyone over the age of 8 years old.

Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia as Guy and The Girl in the New Wolsey Theatre's production of Once which is returning to the theatre in February 2020 before heading out on a UK tour Photo: Mike KwasniakDaniel Healy and Emma Lucia as Guy and The Girl in the New Wolsey Theatre's production of Once which is returning to the theatre in February 2020 before heading out on a UK tour Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Once, New Wolsey Theatre, from February 24-29

The return of Peter Rowe's critically acclaimed production of the Broadway and West End hit musical but this time as a touring production. Most of the original cast are back, including lead actors Daniel Healy and Emma Lucia, to tell a bittersweet love story with a contemporary sensibility.

Based on a cult 2006 Irish indie film, it tells the story of a part-time Dublin guitarist busker (who works by day in his dad's Hoover repair shop) who falls unexpectedly in love with a young Czech immigrant fellow musician. As we follow their relationship big changes happen to both of them in just five short days.

The music, played live by the actors themselves, is alternately beautiful and rousing. There's no other show quite like it and it played to sold out audiences during its initial run two years ago. It's the most unusual, unique and affecting musical you're ever likely to see. It has a spontaneous free-form improvisatory vitality, yet it is also emotionally precise in the understated air of longing that anyone who has ever been in love will recognise instantly.

Absurd Person Singular, New Wolsey Theatre, from March 3-7

A classic farce from the master of social observation Alan Ayckbourn. Three married couples. Three kitchens. Three Christmas parties.

Sidney Hopcroft, a small-time tradesman, persuades wife Jane to throw a party hoping to find favour with a bank manager and local architect. As celebrations begin, class differences and naked ambition combine to hilarious effect as, one by one, the characters seek refuge in Jane's kitchen.

Over the next two years, the Jacksons and Brewster-Wrights take turns to host festivities. But Sidney's star has begun to rise and roles are increasingly reversed as the cracks in the other couples' marriages begin to show.

Alan Ayckbourn's comic masterpiece of social climbing in 1970s suburbia fuses a potent mix of farce and black comedy.

Oliver Twist, New Wolsey Theatre, from March 25 — April 4

A new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic from acclaimed writer Bryony Lavery. Born into poverty and misfortune, Oliver Twist escapes the workhouse for a life of adventure where he joins Artful Dodger, Fagin and their mischievous gang of pick pockets. But the enjoyment is short lived as he falls under the influence of the vicious Bill Sykes.

This bold, brutal and beautiful new version of Oliver Twist sends you on a dark adventure through the twisted streets of London.

Oliver Twist is staged in association with Ramps On The Moon. Now in its fourth year, this pioneering initiative from seven major UK theatre companies is committed to putting D/deaf and disabled artists and audiences at the centre of their work. Every performance of Oliver Twist will feature the use of integrated creative sign language, audio description and captioning. Suitable for those aged 12 and over.

Return To Heaven, Mark Bruce Company, DanceEast, from March 27-28

Two explorers (Dane Hurst, Eleanor Duval) search the dark mysteries of the ancient world and enter a perilous land beyond time and death. Hounded by scientists and supernatural forces, and trying desperately not to lose one another, they journey through lands of unleashed demons and gods to play their role in the resurrection of an ancient deity. Return to Heaven crosses lands, cultures and time to create a mythology and symbolism of its own.

With influences of William Burroughs, old horror films and Victorian chillers, Return to Heaven presents visions of cursed tombs, jungles, science fiction nightmares and islands of paradise.

The company's previous visits to DanceEast have combined theatre along with dancing to great effect.

With incredibly high production standards and set to music ranging from Penderecki to Tchaikovsky, Mark Lanegan and Harry Belafonte, this dance theatre performance will be visceral and poignant, intricately choreographed and laced with dark humour.

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