The Sound of Music, Palladium, London<br />Thér&egrave;se Raquin, NT Lyttelton, London<br />Whipping It Up, Bush Theatre, London<br />The Winter's Tale/Pericles,Swan, Stratford

Sweet Jesus! A reality star with talent
Click to follow

Feeling von Trapped? After all the talk about the risks involved in producing The Sound of Music with a newcomer as Maria, the problem actually turned out to be soap star Simon Shepherd's Captain von Trapp. Shepherd was released from his duties (apparently by mutual agreement) to be replaced just 10 days before press night by Alexander Hanson. With Maria's understudy having walked out too, I confess I momentarily imagined that the armed stormtroopers - encircling the von Trapps during "Edelweiss" - were really ensuring no one else did a runner.

But, panic over, Hanson is admirably assured. His Captain is not as comically military as he might be, yet he slips the more easily into the role of endearing softie when his widower's grief thaws. As for Connie Fisher - winner of the TV talent show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria - she's charmingly natural from the moment she starts to sing, "The hills are alive with the sound of music". This gamine governess also has a mellifluous warmth, a comforting maternal quality.

That doesn't stop Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical being appallingly syrupy at points, not helped by designer Robert Jones's spectacular revolving schloss and alpine views being drenched in mauve and sunset-pink lighting. Still, Jeremy Sams's staging is fluid and the acoustics are crisp, with soaring, ecclesiastical choir singing led by Lesley Garrett's Mother Abbess. The serious message about resisting political evils comes across with force too, even if the von Trapps have no option but to flee those Nazi stormtroopers in the end. Bound to be a box office hit.

Though far more gloomy, music plays an unexpectedly large part in Thérèse Raquin. Indeed, Nicholas Wright's adaptation of Zola's grim novel - a tale of adultery, murder and its aftermath - sometimes comes near to modern dance. Guilt-wracked after drowning Thérèse's husband, the two lovers spend their nights tossing and turning in violent agonies. As staged by Marianne Elliott, that living hell is glimpsed in choreographed freeze frames. Charlotte Emmerson's bitterly despairing Thérèse and Ben Daniels's feverous Laurent are seen, in flashes, prowling round each other, hurling themselves down on rumpled sheets, one moment crouching inches from one another, the next flung apart again, in distant corners.

It must be said, Elliott does lay the Gothic horrors on a bit thick, with pulsing drum beats underscoring the dialogue. But Hildegard Bechtler's grey set is hauntingly bleak and both Emmerson's and Daniels's performances are sharply detailed and scorchingly intense. Their death scene - abrupt in the book - is beautifully paced, with added tragic tenderness. Wright's script is tightly focused too, making the plot developments more shocking by using jump cuts. And he generates lashings of black comedy with the murderers having to act innocent under the noses of their victim's unsuspecting mother (Judy Parfitt) and her friends, including Mark Hadfield's Grivet - a ghastly little fusspot. A potent, dark group portrait of selfishness and obsession.

In Whipping It Up codes of honour are going to the dogs. Steve Thompson's parliamentary satire is set in the near future, after PM David Cameron's honeymoon period is over. The slick Tory whip, Alastair, holds forth about team loyalties. But everybody is looking for a fall guy when a journo, posing as a secretarial floozy, threatens an exposé.

Thompson's characters are neatly delineated with snappy dialogue. Indeed, Whipping It Up looks like the next Yes, Minister. Directed by Terry Johnson, Richard Wilson is splendidly plummy and foulmouthed as the chief whip while Robert Bathurst's Alastair is super-smooth, sparring with his Labour rival, Helen Schlesinger's hardnosed, crowing Delia. The let-down is the plotline. The more Thompson strives to up the tension with complicated twists, the more one's interest slackens.

Dominic Cooke's paired productions of The Winter's Tale and Pericles are far more richly rewarding, with both Shakespeare's late romances progressing from storms and grief to magical reconciliations with long-lost wives and daughters. For these voyages of discovery - crossing seas and decades - the Swan has been turned into a thrilling promenade space like a rusty ship (designed by Mike Britton). Principally set in Africa, Pericles is the trickier, more episodic saga and Lucian Msamati is somewhat perfunctory in the title role, but it gathers momentum and the ensemble work is a joy. Cooke's use of doubling and mirror images illuminates the plays' structural echoes and The Winter's Tale is really wonderful, shifting from end-of-the-empire elegance to an earthy, stomping, 1960s folk festival in Bohemia. Anton Lesser's small, ruinously insecure Leontes spits jealousy in his white tie and tails. Linda Bassett is priceless as the righteously feisty lady-in-waiting, Paulina, and Kate Fleetwood - playing both wives who come back from the grave - is extraordinarily moving in her harrowed dignity and indestructible love.

* 'The Sound of Music' (0870 890 1108) to 13 October 2007; 'Thérèse Raquin' (020 7452 3000) to 11 Jan; 'Whipping It Up' (020 7610 4224) to 16 Dec ; 'The Winter's Tale' and 'Pericles' (0870 609 1110) to 6 Jan