THE FIVE BEST PLAYS

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The Independent Culture
Mary Poppins

(Prince Edward Theatre, London)

Directed with huge flair by Richard Eyre, this gives new depths to the material, in what emerges as the year's most joyous musical. (020-7447 5400) to 24 Sept

The Winter's Tale (Watermill, Newbury)

Following their Shakespeare History cycle, Edward Hall's all-male Propeller return with this beautiful late romance. (01635 46044) to 19 March

ZRutherford and Son

(Royal Exchange, Manchester)

Revival of Githa Soweby's fine play exploring the tensions between the generations from a valuably female perspective. (0161-833 9833) to 19 February

Festen

(Lyric Theatre, London)

Cracking production, by Rufus Norris, of the Dogme drama about an ill-fated family celebration. Paul Nicholls stars. (0870 890 1107) to 9 April

The Producers (Drury Lane Theatre Royal, London)

Mel Brooks' glorious stage musical zaps along mit der bang, mit der boom, mit der bing-bang, bing-bang boom. (0870 890 1109) to 25 October

AND ONE TO AVOID...

Tropicana (London Bridge Vaults, London)

Camp and inconsequential, Shunt's latest show is just an empty tease. Bogus mirth at its least infectious.

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