Autumn theatre guide: Our picks of what's on

Kevin Bourke

From musical extravaganzas to independent productions, theatre lovers across Manchester and Liverpool have a bumper season ahead – here’s our selection of the best.

Although the runaway success of The Lowry’s upcoming production of War Horse may threaten to trample everything in its path, there’s plenty of quality theatre to enjoy in Manchester and Liverpool before panto season inevitably rears its gender-confused head – oh yes, it will! The Lowry stages another tale of friendship between animal and boy, again adapted from a Michael Morpurgo novel. Set against the backdrop the Spanish Civil War, Toro! Toro! plays at The Lowry Studio from 21 to 22 November. Paul Michael Glaser, perhaps best known for his role in seventies TV cop show, Starsky and Hutch also pays a visit to the Quays this autumn as he takes on the lead role of Teyve in The Lowry’s new stage version of Fiddler on the Roof, which is also directed and choreographed by Strictly judge, Craig Revel Horwood. Meanwhile, the extravagantly entertaining Wicked, a cheeky take on the events in The Wizard of Oz, continues at the Palace Theatre until 16 November and Singin’ In The Rain, which boasts “12,000 litres of water at every performance” returns to soak the front rows at the Opera House from 9 to 30 November.

Stephen Sondheim’s musical thriller Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (his best by a head, if you ask us) has been radically reworked for a unique collaboration between the Royal Exchange and the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. The production has already played to critical acclaim but is being re-rehearsed and re-staged for its Manchester run, which begins on 1 November. Arguably the greatest musical of them all, of course, is West Side Story (which had its European Premiere in Manchester, did you know?). The current blockbusting incarnation is at the Palace from 10 December to 4 January.

 There’s plenty to enjoy before panto season rears its gender-confused head

On a more serious note, Flesh, a new play by Sarah McDonald Hughes based on the experiences of young parents in Manchester, marks another first for the Exchange as they work in collaboration with Manchester’s Monkeywood Theatre. It premieres in the Exchange Studio from 6 November, and anyone who remembers Monkeywood’s compelling Once In A House On Fire or Maine Road will not want to miss it. Another new Manchester-based theatre company is Box Of Tricks, who stage their first national touring production next month. Penned by Tom Morton-Smith – a former writer-in-residence at Paines Plough who’s currently working with the RSC – In Doggerland opens at The Lowry’s Studio on 7 November.

Over in Liverpool, the Everyman and Playhouse demonstrate their own continued commitment to nurturing new talent by presenting another debut play in the Playhouse Studio.  Scrappers, a comedy penned by Daniel Matthew and directed by Matthew Xia, tells the story of a small group of scrap merchants in Fleetwood and will be staged in the intimate “upstairs” space from 24 October to 16 November. Downstairs in their Main House and following the critical success of last year’s A Government Inspector, Northern Broadsides’ Associate Director, Conrad Nelson and playwright Deborah McAndrew once again team up for The Grand Gesture. A pitch-black farce based on Nikolai Erdman’s rarely-performed The Suicide, it runs from 12 November to 16 November.

Nobody is better at traditional panto than Oldham Coliseum but, before they get to this year’s long-running extravaganza, they follow up their record-breaking take on Chicago with No Fat Juliets, a new piece of comic writing that runs until 25 October. In complete contrast is a new version of Harold Pinter’s ruthless Betrayal, which runs from 29 October to 2 November.

At Bolton’s Octagon Theatre, David Thacker has an enviable reputation for bringing classic American drama to brilliant life – which the current production there of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night does nothing to damage. It runs until 2 November, after which, Associate Director Elizabeth Newman, directs her fourth festive production there: the legendary tale of Robin Hood (15 November – 11 January). The play features a cast of actor-musicians, performing original music live on stage alongside a team of local young performers.

Coincidentally, the Library Theatre, whose festive productions have been so brilliantly entertaining over recent years, also turn their attention to Robin Hood. Wanted! Robin Hood is written by Charles Way and directed by Amy Leach, whose version of last year’s Arabian Nights was an all-ages triumph. Hopes, it’s fair to say, are sky-high for the production, running from 29 November to 11 January.

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