I have a soft spot for Sutton Arts theatre. It is intimate at just over a hundred seats, well maintained, with a generous bar area, has good car parking nearby, but crucially offers a strong programme, with varied directors. A new season is always to be looked forwards to, what follows takes a look at what you could be taking a look at over the next twelve months:
Fame 21st 30th June
The mid -summer musical is now a traditional event at Sutton Arts. Despite the physical logistical hurdles of a theatre ill-designed for musicals, they have consistently triumphed, not least with “West Side Story”.
“Fame” has much to commend it, a classic title song, a gender and ethnically diverse cast, an upbeat message and lashings of feel good joie-de vivre. Husband and wife team Armstrong / Whitehead are seasoned technicians at producing big shows on a small stage. Popular with schools and amateur theatre, this is a sure-fire hit.
However, it is not without its challenges. There are three “Fames”, the film (1980), television series (1982), and musical (1988), which itself has undergone several revisions. From inception it is nearly forty years old now. To put this in perspective, Oklahoma! was appearing for the first time the same number of years before “Fame’s” premiere , as there is between now and when “Fame” first appeared. The X factor, BGT, So you Think You Can Dance all offer a modern take on fame which was unknown back then. Of course you can reimagine the setting, but you cannot reimagine the songs, just rearrange them for modern ears.
Will we be offered a period nostalgia show which risks being dated, or a reboot which risks being unfaithful to its roots? Or will Dexter and Emily weave their magic somewhere in between? It will be worth finding out.
And Then There Were None 30/8- 8/9.
Agatha Christie, like Alan Ayckbourn, has an audience. “And Then There Were None” sticks to a formula, and does it well. It is unlikely to attract a fresh, but will satisfy its existing, audience. Dexter Whitehead directs again
Rabbit Hole 18th -27th Oct
This production, directed by Louise Farmer and Faye Hatch is what delights me about Sutton Arts. Tissues will need to be supplied with each ticket as this is a tear jerker, a study of the pain of others, that will resonate with anyone who has experienced close bereavement. The plot of “Rabbit Hole,” by David Lindsay- Abaire,centres on the impact of the accidental killing of a small child, redemption, grief, and coming to terms with loss. Which sounds gloomy, but it isn’t. So sharply entertaining is the script, such is its honesty and accuracy that it succeeds in engaging, rather than overwhelming, laced with some tension releasing humour. When it was performed on Broadway, Tyne Daly, of Cagney and Lacey fame, was inundated with plaudits.
The mundane opening prepares the ground for what is to come. A woman is sorting laundry with her sister. But a loud silence pervades the room. While the talk is inflected with the ritualistic familial rhythms of fondness and annoyance, the strain of something unspoken pulses. It takes you perhaps five minutes to realize that the child-size clothes the mother is folding with such mechanical efficiency belonged to her son, a 4-year-old boy named Danny who was struck and killed by a car eight months earlier.
Every action, big and small, and every word that follows are informed by our awareness of the characters’ awareness of Danny’s death. Grief has obviously not brought the members of Becca’s family — including her husband, Howie, and her mother, Nat — closer together. Sorrow isolates them. Anything that anyone says is almost guaranteed to be the wrong thing.
A bold choice , a challenging play, I can’t wait.
Dick Whittington 8th – 22nd Dec
The Armstrong/ Whitehead nexus reconvenes for Panto season which runs before Christmas. Sutton Arts know how to produce a traditional pantomime, and Dick Whittington is one of the stronger panto stories. Expect plenty of “Dick “jokes”. It is always good. It is always well attended. It is always a joy. It is invariably more satisfying than more expensive shows at larger theatres. They know the formula – they deliver.
Ding Dong 24/1- 9/2
A Marc Camoletti ( of “Boeing Boeing” renown) farce. The plot follows a husband who finds out that his wife is cheating on him and decides the perfect revenge will be for him to sleep with his wife’s lover’s wife. Camoletti is good, devotees of farce will not be disappointed.
Jerusalem 14th -23rd Mar
Like “Rabbit Hole”, another inspired selection by the programming team.
Written by Jez Butterworth it is an homage to England, full of bombast and rooted in a sense of place: England. Butterworth’s Jerusalem is not to be confused with the 2005 play of the same name by Simon Armitage. This will be one of Director Dexter Whiteheads’ biggest directorial challenges.
It is a chronicle of us, now, a tale of identity and nationhood and belonging, set in a fictional Wiltshire village on St George’s Day. It merges myth and legend with the here and now, it hints at why “Jerusalem” is sung most vociferously by middle aged men with red chests, and pendulous beer bellies.
A play about nationality in a multi- national country will always be controversial, “Jerusalem” will attract and polarise in equal measure- it will not bore.
Gin Game 24th April – 4th May
D.L. Coburn’s 1978 Pulitzer Prize winner, written in 1976, is a two-hander about a pair of retirement home residents who banter and bitch away their hours at a card table. Rose Manjunath directs, I am sure she will relish being involved with a play with so small a cast, and relatively light narrative, which depends upon acting and performance.
The play premiered on Broadway in 1977 and borrows thematically from the contemporaneous “On Golden Pond”, it is also colour blind, providing maximum flexibility on casting save for gender and age.
With little action, apart from the drama of The Gin card game humour becomes all important for the two demanding parts assumed by the actors, initially the proverbial odd couple, for whom friendship is found, as mutual understanding grows. The Card game is also used as a metaphor for life as a game of luck and judgement, as well as more familiar reflections about the place of the elderly in society.
There are elements of both “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Visitors” ( the latter brilliantly done by Barry Atchison a couple of years ago) in this play, Manjunath relishes this sort of production, I am sure it will be excellent.
Guys n Dolls 13th -22nd June
One of the great musicals, a certified classic which I cannot wait to see, even though it is a year off as I write. Great songs, great characters, great feel good show, sit back and enjoy. Armstrong / Whitehead will be Rocking Your Boat.