Poppins to theatre this autumn

A FLYING nanny, stripping housewives and foul whisperings and unnatural deeds are just a few of the temptat-ions programmed by Edinburgh's big four theatres for the coming autumn season.

So, as you recover from the excesses of the Festival, here is a preview of some of the highlights that await.

The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company launch their 2008/09 season with a production of Macbeth (Sept 12-Oct 11), directed by Lucy Pitman-Wallace, and starring the award-winning Liam Brennan in the title role with ex-River City star Allison McKenzie as his good lady and Jimmy Chisholm as rival King Duncan.

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Shakespeare's dark and bloody tragedy tells a tale of one man's quest for the crown and whose actions create a disturbing and unsettling period of fear and tyranny in medieval Scotland.

If it has become traditional for the Lyceum to open with one of the Bard's works, so, too, has become the norm to see the name Tony Cownie on the directing credits at some point during the year – following Macbeth he takes the helm for Mary Rose (Oct 24-Nov 15), by JM Barrie.

This Edwardian ghost story begins in a mysterious old house, where a young man is being shown round by an old caretaker. Her evident uneasiness is matched only by her distaste for his jaunty, overconfident air. Soon we discover that this house has a dark secret. If you loved The Woman in Black, chances are you'll love this.

Across town at the King's Theatre, Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song (Sept 30-Oct 4) starts the action. Voted the most popular Scottish novel of all time in 2006, this revised stage adaptation by award-winning playwright Alistair Cording provides an insight into the life of a young woman growing up in rural Scotland in the 1920s and 30s.

Her story, and that of those around her, reflect wide-reaching issues – the affects of war, national identity and the impact of modern ways on rural life are dealt with unflinchingly.

Directed by former Royal Lyceum Theatre artistic director Kenny Ireland, Sunset Song is the first solo touring production by His Majesty's Theatre Aberdeen, since 2005.

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Comedy comes next to Leven Street in the touring production of Alan Ayckbourn's West End hit, Absurd Person Singular (Oct 6-11).

It's party time at the Hopcroft's and the only present they want is to succeed in scaling the social ladder. Havoc ensues at the drinks party they hold to impress their high-powered friends – but that's nothing compared to what happens over the next two years when the friends return their hospitality.

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An all-star company led by Sara Crowe, known for Four Weddings and a Funeral, guarantee this will prove a popular show. The cast is completed by Matthew Cottle (Game On), Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle's War) and Marc Bannerman who was Gianni Di Marco in EastEnders. Not forgetting Deborah Grant (Bergerac/ Not Going Out) and David Griffin (Keeping Up Appearances/Hi-de-Hi).

As one all-star cast exits, another enters. Tim Firth's Calendar Girls (Oct 14-18) sees the ladies of a Yorkshire branch of the WI lose their clothes and their inhibitions for a charity calendar.

Puzzling their husbands, mortifying their children and riding the wrath of the outraged WI, they inadvertently spark a global phenomenon. But as media interest snowballs, the Calendar Girls find them-selves exposed in ways they'd never expected.

Ready to strip for their art are Oxo mum Lynda Bellingham, Dancing On Ice star Gaynor Faye, one-time lady detective Patricia Hodge, ex-Likely Lads star Brigit Forsyth and the irrepressible Elaine C Smith as Miss February.

The dark shadow of war falls over the King's as October rolls into November. All Quiet On The Western Front (Oct 28-Nov 1) by Erich Maria Remarque, is perhaps the most famous anti-war novel ever written. It follows a group of naive youngsters who join up to fight in the 'glorious war', but their idealism quickly turns to disillusionment as they come face to face with the full horrors of life in the trenches and, one by one, they begin to fall.

James Alexandrou, best known as Martin Fowler in EastEnders, leads a talented company in this new production which commem-orates the 90th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Other classics visiting the King's in the run up to the annual panto are Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights (Nov 4-8), starring Susannah York and Shameless star Amanda Ryan, and An Ideal Husband (Nov 10-15), by Oscar Wilde, featuring Bad Girls' star Kate O'Mara, Robin of Sherwood, Michael Praed, Drop the Dead Donkey's Robert Duncan, and stage and screen legends Fenella Fielding and Tony Britton.

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On the other side of town, the highlight of the Edinburgh Playhouse winter season might be The Witches Of Eastwick with Marti Pellow, but there are also a few other gems heading towards the Greenside Place venue.

Love is in the air in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (Sept 9-13), starring Steven Houghton and Susan McFadden. Voted the third most popular musical of all time by BBC Radio 2 listeners, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers has long been a popular staple of musical theatre. Read the words 'What A Feeling' and it can only mean one thing, the world premiere production of Flashdance (Sept 15-20) is set to shimmy its way into town. Set in Pittsburgh, and based on the film of the same name, the musical tells the story of 18-year-old Alex, a welder by day and flashdancer by night, whose dream is to obtain a place at the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy.

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Starring Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Alex, Bruno Langley as Jimmy and Bernie Nolan as Hannah Owens, the production also marks the return of Noel Sullivan to the city. The former Hear'say band member has previously starred at the Playhouse in Grease and Love Shack. Expect to hear them sing Maniac, Manhunt, Gloria, I Love Rock and Roll and the Academy Award winning title track, Flashdance – What a Feeling.

Flying in next is Mary Poppins (Oct 2-Dec 6) who drops in for a ten-week season and her only Scottish dates, fresh from a 42-month run at the Prince Edward Theatre in London.

Caroline Sheen and Lisa O'Hare will play the role of Mary Poppins, with Daniel Crossley as Bert in the production which includes many of the original songs from the film with music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman.

Musical theatre features over at the Festival Theatre too, where the one and only Chesney Hawkes makes his musical debut as Tony in Can't Smile Without You (Oct 20-25), featuring the timeless classics of Barry Manilow. Playing Tony's love interest – yes, you've guessed it, Mandy – will be 23-year-old Siobhan Dillon, runner up in How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

Fully endorsed by Manilow, the show features 30 of his hits including Could It Be Magic, It's A Miracle, I Write The Songs, Mandy, I Made It Through The Rain and, of course, Can't Smile Without You.

Before that, Carousel (Oct 6-11) brings Lesley Garrett to town in the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, which tells the story of a love affair between Billy Bigelow, a smooth-talking carousel barker, and Julie Jordan, a naive young mill worker. Soprano Garrett plays the pivotal role of Nettie and is joined onstage by Jeremiah James as Billy Bigelow and, as Julie Jordan, Alexandra Silber.

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Songs you might recognise include, The Carousel Waltz, If I Loved You, June is Bustin' Out All Over and that football terracing favourite You'll Never Walk Alone – I kid you not.

• Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, 0131-248 4848, www.lyceum.org.uk

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• King's Theatre, Leven Street, 0131-529 6000, www.eft.co.uk

• Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, 0844-847 1661

www.edinburghplay house.org.uk

• Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, 0131-529 6000 www.eft.co.uk