Plays by Merlynn Tong, Kenny Emson and Ken Ludwig feature in the first season at the newly refurbished Mercury Theatre in Essex
A season of new plays and adaptations has been announced for Colchester’s Mercury Theatre as it prepares to reopen after a major refurbishment.
The Essex theatre will embark on its new season in July with Ken Ludwig’s madcap version of Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, followed by the UK premiere of Merlynn Tong’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone.
New work under the Mercury Originals banner will include the world première of Sirens by Kenny Emson whose previous plays include Rust and Terrorism at London’s Bush Theatre. This Christmas will also see the return of panto with Aladdin.
The Mercury also announced it has commissioned Joel Horwood to adapt Stephen King’s novel, The Green Mile, for a world premiere on the Colchester stage in 2022, ahead of a national tour.
The theatre will also welcome touring productions such as The War of the Worlds, Tell Me on a Sunday, And Then There Were None, Dragons and Mythical Beasts, and The Jolly Christmas Postman.
After two years of closure and raising over £11.3 million, the refurbished venue now features a bigger, brighter foyer space open all day with a new café bar, a redeveloped main auditorium with extra seats, a new rehearsal room, revamped and extended backstage facilities, double the number of toilets and a new community space and dance studio. For the first time the building is now accessible throughout.
Executive director Steve Mannix said: “Having come so far in such a challenging period we are incredibly grateful that we are now in the very final stages of fully completing this vital transformation to this wonderful theatre and are incredibly excited to be planning for our reopening in June.”
Creative director Ryan McBryde added: “We’re looking forward to reinventing old stories and conjuring up bold, new ones – stories that electrify, stir and enrich, stories from fresh voices that demand to be heard, stories that enable us to identify with one another.
“It’s not just about the shows. We want to breathe life into our spaces all day long. We want to see parents enjoying coffee and cake in our café bar whilst their toddlers enjoy morning story-time. We want to see our senior citizens learning to Lindy Hop in our brand new dance studio, school choirs singing their hearts out on the terrace, families picnicking in the Roman wall garden, professionals hot-desking in our office, and our young company rehearsing in the creative learning space.”
The building was revamped by Phelan and designed by Colchester Borough Homes and Purcell. It opens for the first time for a special weekend of events on 26 and 27 June.
Baskerville!, Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes story, runs from 30 July to 22 August, with opening night on 5 August. With five actors playing 40 characters, it promises to be a fast-paced, laugh-out-loud comedy. Directed by Ryan McBryde, it features design by Amy Jane Cook, lighting design by Johanna Town, video design by Louise Rhoades-Brown and sound design by Steve Mayo.
The UK premiere of Antigone by Merlynn Tong, after Sophocles, runs from 1 to 16 October, with opening night on 6 October. Set in a war-torn city, a grieving, defiant Antigone strikes out against the brutal regime of new leader Creon in a furious act of civil disobedience which will have devastating consequences for them both. It will be directed by Dawn Walton.
Sirens by Kenny Emson will run in the Mercury’s Studio from 28 October to 6 November, with opening night on 2 November. It follows Rory and Gemma who break into the a RNLI station on Halloween in 1987. He wants to run away to London, she wants him to notice that she’s not drinking. Over the course of the next 34 years the consequences of that night will tear their lives apart. This haunting new play explores themes of belonging, family ties and forgiveness.
Aladdin, written by Andrew Pollard, will offer fun for all the family in the main theatre from 27 November 2021 to 16 January 2022, with opening night on 4 December. The cast will include Great British Pantomime Award-winning ugly sisters Antony Stuart-Hicks and Dale Superville, returning to the Colchester stage. Directed by Ryan McBryde, it will feature design by Diego Pitarch and lighting design by David W Kidd. The team also includes musical director Nick Barstow, choreographer Donna Berlin and magic adviser Michael J Fitch.
The refurbishment has allowed the theatre to expand its community and engagement work including a 10-week acting programme, an intergenerational community choir, a musical theatre dance class, family sing-alongs and a social club for over-55s. Mercury Young Company returns with an additional age group, 18 to 25, alongside new activities for young people including Tots classes, weekend drop-in sessions and summer school opportunities.
The company’s Artist Development Programme continues with How To monthly masterclasses led by professional theatre practitioners, Connects where arts professionals can connect, and Reads supporting new writers.