Coming to a stage near you

With the longest-day fast disappearing over the horizon, the nights, as they say, will soon be drawing in. And what better way to fill the cold, dark autumn evenings than with a night at the theatre?

Okay, a night in front of a blazing coal fire with a bottle of wine and a loved one might be more romantic, but assuming you’ve got central heating, wine and a loved one can be as much a part of a romantic night out at the theatre.

It’s something they know at the King’s and Festival Theatres, where preparations are now well underway to stage their recently announced autumn/winter programmes, which both promise evenings of dance, theatre and music with the odd star name - and Dorothy Paul - thrown in to boot.

There’s even, for the first time ever, a Royal Variety Performance in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to look forward to at the Festival Theatre on Monday November 24.

Kicking things off at the King’s in September, however, the new Scottish Touring Consortium presents the award-winning children’s theatre company Wee Stories with Arthur - The Story of a King (September 13-20).

Andy Cannon, creative director of the company says: "This is a big opportunity for Wee Stories to connect with a wider audience and I’m looking forward to the challenge of bringing the intimate style of storytelling theatre to the big stage.

"Arthur - The Story of A King has been commissioned by the Scottish Touring Consortium and will tour throughout Scotland, but as a local, I’m really delighted to be launching the tour at the theatre where I went regularly as a wee boy."

In fact, there’s a distinctly Scottish feel to much of the King’s season. The ever-popular Dorothy Paul returns to the Capital in A Happy Medium (September 30-October 4) - a supernatural romp in which she plays Ellen Small, a wee woman from Maryhill with big ideas about contacting her dead sister.

A month later, Lyceum favourite Jimmy Chisholm flies solo in Charles Dickens: The Haunted Man (October 29-November 1), a compelling one-man show by John Clifford which allows audiences to glimpse the inner workings of the astonishing and creative mind of the Victorian author.

Chisholm explains: "Charles Dickens: The Haunted Man is quite an informal piece about the writer’s determination to ensure that children were not jeopardised by adults’ greed. It’s a beguiling piece because what you are seeing is an evening with Charles Dickens in his room.

"There’s no real message as such, but hopefully it gives an insight into the man and why he had to write so much - I think he’d have blown up if he couldn’t put his ideas down on paper."

Not all the King’s highlights are home-grown, however, and other top shows include the National Theatre’s touring production of Vincent in Brixton (October 21-25), which recently won its author Nicholas Wright the 2003 Olivier Award for Best New Play; the West End production of The Graduate (November 4-8) direct from record-breaking seasons in both London and on Broadway; and Mike Leigh’s 70s classic - get the fondue out - Abigail’s Party (November 11-15).

For sheer entertainment W Somerset Maughan’s social comedy, The Constant Wife (October 6-11) with Liza Goddard, Susan Penhaligon, the Olivier Award-winning actress Sara Crowe and one-time Robin of Sherwood Michael Praed promises to be a good bet and is followed a week later by the only Scottish dates of the Touring Partnership’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, a sharp romantic comedy and political farce first performed in 1894.

As ever - after the annual visit of the Scout and Guide Gang Show - the annual panto brings the King’s winter season to its traditional close.

This year it’s the turn of Jack and the Beanstalk, starring Allan Stewart as Nurse May, with Andy Gray, Briony McRoberts and Evening News columnist Grant Stott as the dastardly villain. It also marks the return of Charlie Cairoli - last seen two years ago in Peter Pan - and introduces James Pearson, star of BBC kids drama Jeopardy as Idle Jack.

In the words of John Stalker, chief executive of both the King’s and Festival theatres: "Ye’ll be aye greetin’ gin ye miss it!"

Over at his Nicolson Street charge, a strong dance influence pervades with visits from Scottish Ballet, the Rambert Dance Company (featuring Kylie Minogue!) and Les Ballets Trockadero.

Scottish Ballet present two programmes starting in September with a programme of 20th century classics by leading choreographers Richard Alston, Siobhan Davies, Ashley Page and Stephen Petronio (September 25-27), while their new version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (December 17-27) choreographed by Ashley Page will bring the Festival’s season to a close.

In between, the Rambert Dance Company brings a triple bill to the venue - 21 by Rafael Bonachela features Kylie Minogue (on film); Elsa Canasta by Javier de Frutos is set to the music of Cole Porter; and Visions Fugitives by Hans van Manen.

Finally, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo aka The Trocks aka men in tutus, bring their own unique interpretation of some of the classics in the ballet repertoire (November 17-18) and the Richard Alston Dance Company does a solitary night on December 1.

But it’s not all tutus on the Festival stage. October sees the return to the Capital of Hi-de-hi favourite Su Pollard who is due to star in Annie (October 7-11), the heart-warming musical about an 11-year-old orphan girl adopted by billionaire businessman, Daddy Warbucks.

Pollard has been cast as the evil- tempered, child-hating, bourbon- swilling matron of the orphanage, Miss Hannigan. In real life, however, she couldn’t be more complimentary about her young charges, and says: "The children are superb and the music is so great. I’ve always wanted to be in Annie because I just love the music so much. We’ve got a brilliant cast and, frankly, I’m having a ball. It’s fantastic."

Ten days later Scottish Opera are in the spotlight when they reprise Jonathan Moore’s controversial production of The Magic Flute by Mozart.

The multi-award winning comedy, The Play What I Wrote, directed by Kenneth Branagh, makes its Edinburgh debut the following week (October 27- November 1). A celebration of Britain’s greatest loved comedy double-act, Morecambe and Wise, it will feature a special mystery guest.

And if lovers of the classics are split by Scottish Opera’s latest offering, chances are there will be more than the odd eyebrow raised when Glyndebourne Touring Opera comes to town for the first time since 1971 (December 9-13).

Peter Sellars directs their production of Mozart’s Idomeneo which has been described as ground-breaking and an exciting new production of Theodora by Handel, while the more traditional La Traviata is directed by Christopher Cowell.

Evening News theatre critic Thom Dibdin believes both programmes are exciting and adventurous.

"Nothing is likely to overshadow the historic decision to stage the Royal Variety Performance in Edinburgh, but this is a programme that moves both theatres forward and, in the case of the King’s, helps develop its full potential as the Capital’s premier receiving house," he says.

"The Wee Stories’ production should be interesting. I’m curious to see how it works because, as a company they’re known for their intimate storytelling so this is a big step up for them and a step that I hope will be a great one. By attracting the likes of the National Theatre and the Touring Company to the city the King’s also guarantees a high standard of show as both have a reputation for producing exciting quality theatre.

"There is a good, positive feel to the season with names you would want to see combined with the odd surprise production."

Festival Theatres Trust supremo Stalker programmed both venues and firmly believes that the diversity of productions his theatres are now commanding can only enhance the Capital’s cultural reputation.

He says: "When selecting shows my watchwords are quality, variety and the all important entertainment factor. As one of the world’s great cultural cities, it is important that Edinburgh sees the best work on offer and this season blends the traditional with the new, the classical with the contemporary and work of serious intent with work that is just sheer entertainment.

"I hope everyone has something to look forward to in the weeks and months ahead."


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