Autumn theatre preview: The leaves they are a-changin’

Kevin Bourke
Poster image for A Farewell to Arms, showing a nurse

Summer’s almost over, but fret not: there’s much to look forward to with our top ten picks of the autumn theatre season.

Autumn – yes, autumn – is on its way. And with it, not just damp showers and falling leaves – theatres across the north are rolling out a solid array of productions as the months grow colder. All you need to do is pick your favourite. Simple.

 1. Jersey Boys

Ignore the lacklustre film version, this is one of the most purely enjoyable musicals of the last few years, based on the songs and even more extraordinary real-life story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Palace Theatre, Manchester, 4 September-4 October. Ticket prices vary.

 2. She Stoops to Conquer

Fresh from the critical acclaim of An August Bank Holiday Lark, Northern Broadsides takes to the road again with Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th-century comedy of class, courtship and dysfunctional families, relocated, in characteristic style, from the West Country to the north of England. Touring – dates and ticket links here.

3. Romeo & Juliet

With HOME yet to make its physical debut, Walter Meierjohann keeps the artistic fires burning with a site-specific, promenade production of the greatest Shakespearean comedy in one of Manchester’s most beautiful, underused buildings – Victoria Baths. Live music and designs by Ti Green, who recently designed Orlando at the Royal Exchange, help make this a mouth-watering prospect. Victoria Baths, Manchester, 10 September-4 October. Tickets £20.50.

4. Hamlet

London may have Benedict Cumberbatch as the pasty Dane but we’ve got the great Maxine Peake, directed by Sarah Frankcom; the same dynamic team whose The Masque Of Anarchy was such a hit at MIF. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out which sounds more intriguing. Tickets are, we have been told, selling out fast. Royal Exchange, Manchester, 11 September-18 October. Ticket prices vary.

5. Secret Theatre

The ground-breaking Secret Theatre Company were formed at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith last year to “explore new ways of making theatre.” Their week-long residency at West Yorkshire Playhouse includes the radical reclaiming of A Streetcar Named Desire (16-25 Sep); Glitterland, adapted from John Webster’s The White Devil (20 Sep); the riotous A Series Of Increasingly Impossible Acts (23 Sep); a mind-boggling re-staging of Woyzeck (26-27 Sep); and Show 6, a brand new show from award-winning playwright Mark Ravenhill, with the audience in control of who performs each night (23-25 Sep). What could possibly go wrong? West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. More information, here.

6.  Juno and the Paycock

Gemma Bodinetz directs Sean O’Casey’s classic Irish drama in a major co-production with Bristol Old Vic, with Niamh Cusack as the eponymous Juno and Des McAleer as her husband, Jack Boyle. This looks superb. Playhouse, Liverpool, 1-18 October. Tickets £12-25.

7. A Farewell to Arms

The Dukes join forces with the jaw-droppingly inventive “imitating the dog” theatre company (yes, that is their real name) for the UK stage premiere of an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s wartime classic A Farewell to Arms, based on the writer’s own experiences. The Dukes, Lancaster. 10-25 October, tickets £8-18. The Lowry, Salford Quays, 13-15 November, tickets £19.

8.  Bright Phoenix

Jeff Young’s new play Bright Phoenix is “inspired by a hidden Liverpool, a version of the city that is unauthorised and often unseen.” Its premiere at the Everyman coincides with a celebration of their 50th birthday, including a pop-up Fun Palace inspired by Joan Littlewood on 4 and 5 October, the Everyword Festival around the city at the end of October, and, thrillingly for those who remember the original, Cosmic Trigger, Daisy Eris Campbell’s play that celebrates her father – and legendary Everyman artistic director Ken Campbell’s – 1976 play Illuminatus. Bright Phoenix at the Everyman, Liverpool, 3-25 October. Tickets £10-20.

9. Best of BE Festival

Walter Meierjohann has promised to bring some of the best European work to HOME, and this weekend-long mini-festival (imported all the way from Birmingham – the “BE” stands for “Birmingham European”) champions the work of original and daring theatre makers from across Europe. The Events, just a few days later, is David Greig’s compelling new play, with a different local choir at each performance. HOME, Number One First Street, Manchester. Best of BE Festival, 17-18 October. The Events, 22-25 October, tickets £17.

10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Director Marianne (War Horse) Elliot and writer Simon (Punk Rock) Stephens (both from Stockport, did you know?) collaborate on this award-winning and brilliantly imaginative adaptation of Mark Haddon’s extraordinary book. The Lowry, Salford, 18 December-10 January, 2015. Tickets £30-44.

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