News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 1st April 1999

London has just gained a new cultural quarter which calls itself Cityside. In a shrewd marketing move, the "edge of the cultural map" venues of the Barbican Centre and Sadler's Wells are forming a pincer movement on the newly trendy Clerkenwell area which lies between them. By recruiting the City University, the London Museum, emergent Hoxton Square, and an assortment recently arrived restaurants and shops in the area where no derelict industrial building is safe from conversion to loft apartments, the two major players have got some ammunition. Whether they can convince the stall holders of Petticoat Lane to use the word Cityside remains to be seen. They have a harder job than Bankside which is trying the same thing south of the river between the South Bank and London Bridge.

Meanwhile Sadler's Wells has secured an extra £6m Lottery award from the Arts Council to compensate for its building over-run costs. Although it has been open for six months, the building is still not finished, and the theatre is in dispute with the builder. Chief executive Ian Albery is also looking for an increase of £1.5m in its annual subsidy, otherwise he says he will have to increase prices and pursue a less adventurous programming policy. In the current climate, funding bodies may demand that he does just that. The Summer programme will be: Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan Songs Of The Wanderers - a journey through three tons of rice; the Royal Ballet in Benjamin Britten's Paul Bunyan; Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre Furioso; Rambert Dance Company Mixed Bill and Cruel Garden; Scottish Ballet Night Life; White Oak Dance Project featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov; Nederlands Dans Theater 1; the Royal Ballet Giselle, The Turn Of The Screw Triple Bill, Ondine and Serenade Triple Bill.

Raindance, who provide information and advice on all aspects of independent filmmaking, writing, directing and producing, have a new series of weekend courses. Elliot Grove will lead Lo-to-No Budget Filmmaking on 24th/25th April and Writing The Hot Script on 22nd/23rd May. Raindance also hosts Café in Golden Square W1, on the last Tuesday of each month, with special guests, screenings and networking opportunities all for free. There is a link to their web site from our Information section.

Disney's Beauty And The Beast receives a makeover on 26th April. Michelle Gayle and John Barrowman assume the title roles (I'm not sure who's playing which) with Gemma Craven, Shezwae Powell, and Billy Boyle also joining. A new number, introduced into the Broadway version last year, will be added to the London show.

A furore broke this week when it was revealed that National Theatre actors in the Olivier now use radio mikes. It is believed to be the first time that mikes have been regularly employed in straight plays at any major subsidised theatre. Trevor Nunn defended the practice on the grounds that the peculiar acoustics of the Olivier auditorium demanded sound reinforcement for basic audibility. He claimed that despite spending £340,000 on an acoustic enhancement system two years ago, the problem remained. The revelation has outraged actors, voice coaches and directors alike. They believe it casts slur on (and threatens) the basics of an actor's training and skills - the ability to project the voice with clarity of diction while maintaining an intimacy with the audience - since actors will no longer be in control of their own voice. The recent fashion of film stars with little or no theatre experience appearing on the London stage is also seen as a contributory factor.

The Almeida Theatre is presenting Rob Newman in another of its occasional solo seasons. The stand up who definitively proved (or disproved) the mantra that comedy was the new rock'n'roll, and who has now been reborn as a novelist, returns to live performance. Newman appears in a new show from the 8th to 10th April.

The Royal Shakespeare Company opens yet another front in London. In the first ever co-production between the RSC and the Lyric Hammersmith, Marivaux's The Dispute, translated and directed by Neil Bartlett, plays at the Lyric from 15th April to 22nd May. The play, considered unstageable in Marivaux's lifetime, explores the premise of four children kept locked in isolation since birth, coming to terms with exposure to the world.

Sainsbury's is providing £500,000 sponsorship for a new initiative called Checkout Theatre. The idea is to encourage young people to visit the theatre, through a commitment to new writing, Sunday performances and lower prices, backed up with promotions in local stores. It will be a three year scheme with eight productions originating in regional theatres and then touring. The Arts Council is also contributing £100,000 from its New Audiences programme. Two pilot shows will be a produced in the next few months, a musical version of Aristophanes The Frogs by Fiona Laird at Nottingham Playhouse, and David Grieg's Danny 306 + Me (4 ever) at Edinburgh Traverse.

The Association of British Theatre Technicians Trade Show comes of age. The 21st Performance Technology Event, with a programme of free seminars and its annual Award Ceremony, will take place at the Royal Horticultural Hall 2, Greycoat Street London on 21st and 22nd April. Further details on the ABTT web site via the link from our Organisations section.

The Rumour Machine says: that the Society Of London Theatre, the producers and theatre owners organisation, is making another attempt to get Sunday opening off the ground. Although there is audience demand, previous attempts have foundered over payment levels for performers and staff. Current rates of pay would make performances uneconomic, and performers and staff have thus far refused to work for less, resulting in paralysis. The Rumour Machine grinds on.