News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 6th August 1999

Theatre news this week is dominated by bricks and mortar stories. The Apollo Leisure Group, Britain's biggest theatre operator, with 27 London and regional venues, has been acquired by the American SFX Entertainment Corporation for £170m. SFX, which is the world's largest promoter, producer and venue operator, and recently bought the assets of the Canadian/American Livent Theatrical Organisation for $116m, sees this as the base for expansion into Europe. Apollo's portfolio includes the Lyceum and Apollos Victoria and Hammersmith in London, the Opera House and Palace in Manchester, and arenas in Sheffield and Cardiff. It is a private company, and the feeling was that it could not grow any further without going public in some way. The deal also includes Apollo's 50 per cent interest in the Barry Clayman Corporation, the concert and theatre producer. Apollo founder and chairman Paul Gregg will head SFX's new European division.

Meanwhile Stoll Moss, the West End's biggest theatre group, has been put up for sale by its Australian owner Janet Holmes a Court, for a price of £100m. The company was created in the 1950's, from the Stoll Theatres and Moss Empire chains, and owns the freeholds or leases on 10 prime buildings, including Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the London Palladium and all the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue. Until this shock announcement, Stoll Moss was thought a likely bidder for Associated Capital Theatres, the second biggest West End group, with 8 theatres including Wyndhams and Albery, and 3 Curzon cinemas, which has been on the market for two months. As with ACT, Holmes a Court will only sell as a package, not individual theatres, but with half of London's theatres up for sale at the same time, a break-up of either or both groups looks likely. Until the Apollo deal, SFX was considered the strongest bidder. It is believed that Holmes a Court's decision to sell, concentrating on her South East Asian interests, may be connected with the possibility of her running for the office of President of Australia, if it votes to become a republic in the upcoming referendum.

Confirming the earlier rumour, Maggie Smith will star in Alan Bennett's new play The Lady In The Van, opening at the Queens Theatre on 16th October. This is adapted from a chapter in Bennett's autobiography, about a woman who lived in a camper van, in the drive of his London home for a number of years. Nicholas Hytner will direct. Robert Fox is expected to be the producer.

Three shows in particular prove that the Edinburgh Fringe, from 8th to 30th August, is like no other Festival on earth. Dannii Minogue plays Lady Macbeth in Journey To Macbeth 1999 (along with transsexual witches, Ukranian stiltwalkers and Balkan rock music) in Tony Gough's reworking of Shakespeare, for Theatrum Botanicum in the Royal Botanic Gardens; then there's Ashley Storrie, a 13 year old Scottish stand up, with her show What Were You Doing When You Were 13? at Venue C; and 12 bare-chested hunky Sowetans presenting the equivalent of Tap Dogs in wellies with Gumboots at the Palladium. All human life, and a lot more besides. There is a link to the Fringe web site from the Festivals section of TheatreNet.

Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt's 2 Pianos, 4 Hands will open at the Comedy Theatre on 7th October. The show comprises of the two actor/writers recalling the keyboard experiences of their youth. It started in Toronto in 1996, and has been playing almost continuously in America or Canada ever since. Their British debut was under the direction of Jeremy Sams at Birmingham Repertory Theatre earlier this year. The producer is E & B Productions.

Director Alan Parker, one of the Luvvies For Labour, is to head a new body called the Film Council, which will assume responsibility for the allocation of all public funding for British films. A total of £145m will be available over the next three years, made up from government and Lottery sources. This responsibility is being hived off from the Arts Council, another blow in the "death of a thousand cuts" being administered by the Department of Culture. Council chairman Gerry Robinson this week again rubbished the staff working there when he arrived, many of whom have since been replaced with non-practitioners. Unfortunately they have not been given the opportunity to air their opinions of the People's Philistine.

English National Ballet has announced its Christmas season at the London Coliseum from 14th December to 15th January, which this year will be increased to three productions. In addition to the regular presentation of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker choreographed by Derek Deane, there will be Ronald Hynd's 1985 version of Leo Delibes Coppelia, and a triple bill featuring Act III of La Bayadere, Glen Tetley's Sphinx and Kenneth Macmillan's The Rite Of Spring.

Inspired by the current Broadway success of Cabaret, there have been a rash of shows exploring the Weimar cabaret scene. Cabaret Verboten was originally produced at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, worked its way to New York, and now arrives at New End Theatre Hampstead, from 17th August to 4th September. Created, translated and directed by Jeremy Lawrence, it is made up from songs and sketches by Brecht, Eisler, Hollaender. Mehring, Tucholsky, Valentin, Spoliansky and others. The performers are Effie Gillmore, Paul Hull, Judith Paris and Julian Stolzenberg, and the producers are Matthew Tullah and Paul Hull.

Helen Mirren will return to the West End this autumn in Collected Stories by Donald Marguilies, which ran Off Broadway last year. It tells the story of a novelist who finds her protégéé is willing to abuse their relationship in the search for literary success. Howard Davies will direct for Triumph Proscenium productions.

The Rumour Machine says: that Ralph Feinnes will double Richard II and Coriolanus for the Almeida in the West End season in the spring; that Adventures in Motion Pictures Swan Lake will play in a West End date from January to March next year, between the UK and European legs of its world tour; and that Shared Experience will present Kathryn Hunter in Brecht's Mother Courage And her Children as part of the New Ambassadors programme in the spring. The Rumour Machine grinds on.