News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 7th April 2000

Producer Andre Ptaszynski has been appointed chief executive of Really Useful Theatres, which since the Stoll Moss take over, now consists of thirteen venues. Former SM finance director Loretta Tomasi is to become managing director. Ptaszynski's brief will include creating and developing shows, a policy which has worked well for rival ACT theatres. The long trailed Pet Shop Boys/Jonathan Harvey musical about a male clubland go-go dancer, now titled Closer To Heaven, is among the projects being considered. Ptaszynski's production company Pola Jones will cease to produce new theatre and television work, and will concentrate on general management of its existing and other shows and comedy promotion.

Emboldened by the success of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the Royal Shakespeare Company is to stage a new version of the Broadway musical The Secret Garden at Stratford next Christmas. It is adapted from Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 novel, with book and lyrics by Marsha Norman and music by Lucy Simon. Although it was a 1991 Tony Award winner, director Adrian Noble is working with the writers on a substantially revised version. The story centres on an orphan returning from India to live unhappily with her stern uncle and sickly cousin, whose lives are transformed when she discovers the key to a secret garden.

Donald Sutherland is the latest Hollywood name to make a West End theatre debut, on 22nd May at the Savoy Theatre, in Enigmatic Variations in which a reclusive writer makes a shattering series of revelations to an unsuspecting interviewer. London comes after an iffy Los Angeles launch, and an American/Canadian tour which received mixed reviews. As a result Anthony Paige has taken over direction, and has reshaped the show. This is a Sutherland family venture, with son Roeg translating and adapting the play from Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's original, and wife Francine Racette producing.

Chichester Festival Theatre's repertoire for this year, running from 10th May to 7th October, consists of four comedies in the main house examining the English from the 18th to the 20th centuries. Festival Theatre productions are: The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar, directed by James Kerr; Heartbreak House by Bernard Shaw, directed by Christopher Morahan; A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh; and Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, directed by Peter Wood. Shows in the Minerva are: The Sea by Edward Bond, directed by Sean Holmes; The Blue Room by David Hare, directed by Loveday Ingram; Pal Joey music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart and book by John O'Hara, directed by Loveday Ingram; Aristocrats by Brian Friel, directed by Sean Holmes; and Hysteria by Terry Johnson, directed by Loveday Ingram.

The Laurence Olivier papers, claimed to be the greatest and most extensive theatrical archive of 20th century, have been acquired by the British Library for around 1m. They cover a fifty year working life in both theatre and film, and comprise of over 150 boxes of letters, scripts, photographs, diaries, stage designs, contracts, programmes, tapes and even Olivier's Equity card. The material is so extensive that it is yet to be fully assessed, but highlights include correspondence with famous figures ranging from Winston Churchill to Groucho Marx, and Marilyn Monroe to Margaret Thatcher; a handwritten first draft of John Osborne's play The Entertainer, in which he gave one of his landmark performances; and a photograph album belonging to his second wife Vivien Leigh, recording the filming of Gone With The Wind.

Donmar Warehouse artistic director Sam Mendes has moved swiftly to capitalise on his Oscar success, to safeguard the financial future of the venue, and launch a new subsidiary Donmar Films. Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio will donate 100,000 a year for at least three years to the theatre, no strings attached, and fund Donmar Films to the tune of 250,000 a year in order to secure a first option on any film projects that Mendes finds and develops. Meanwhile New York theatre producer Anita Waxman has agreed to pay more than 350,000 a year, also for three years, for the right to transfer Donmar productions to Broadway. This is a result of the success of The Blue Room last year and the current revival of The Real Thing. Mendes is confirmed to direct a "non-traditional" production of Twelfth Night at Donmar in September. Other future plans are a further Divas season, to include Betty Buckley and Clive Rowe (well he is a high tenor); Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along directed by Michael Grandage at Christmas; and the world premiere of Patrick Marber's new play, directed by either Mendes or Marber, next spring.

Susan Stroman and John Weidman's new "dance play" Contact - three stories about sex and power - which was an Off Broadway sell out earlier this year, has moved to Broadway's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. "Swinging" features three 18th-century French figures in a romantic intrigue mainly played out on a large swing suspended from the rafters. "Did You Move?" sees a woman trapped in a brutal marriage whose romantic fantasies are enacted in a neighborhood Italian restaurant by patrons and waiters. "Contact", based on an actual experience of Stroman, follows a suicidal advertising executive who, stumbling into an after-hours swing-dancing club, encounters a mysterious, beautiful woman in a yellow dress, but is constantly thwarted by rivals more skilled on the dance floor. Stroman will direct a reading of Mel Brooks stage adaptation of The Producers with Nathan Lane in New York in May.

West End Bound: Derek Jacobi will star in God Only Knows, a new play by Hugh Whitemore in the autumn . . . Chita Rivera will bring her career retrospective show Chita And All That Jazz to the Cambridge Theatre for a limited run in the summer.

English National Opera's season from September will consist of 21 operas, starting with eight new productions celebrating 400 years of Italian opera. These include Leoncavallo's rarely performed version of La Boheme, written after the aborted initial collaboration with Puccini, directed by Tim Albery; Dallapiccola's The Prisoner directed by Neil Armfield; Rossini's The Turk In Italy directed by David Fielding in his ENO directing debut; and Verdi's Requiem staged by Phyllida Lloyd. They will be followed in 2001 by Wagner's The Rhinegold in concert, laying the foundation for a new staging of a complete Ring Cycle over the following two seasons; new productions of Verdi's Il Travatore; Motzart's Don Giovanni directed by Calixto Bieito making his ENO debut; Britten's The Rape Of Lucretia directed by David McVicar; and the world premiere of David Sawyer's From Morning To Midnight based on a play by Georg Kaiser, directed by Richard Jones.

Prize money of up to 50,000 will be awarded to the winner of this year's Peggy Ramsay Foundation Play Award, which is given to production companies towards staging an unproduced work. The assessment panel will include David Hare and Genista McIntosh. Last year's winner was the Tron Theatre Glasgow for Zinnie Harris's Further Than The Furthest Thing. The deadline for submissions is 3rd July and the winner will be announced in September. Further details from the Theatre Managers Association, the Independent Theatre Council or direct from the Foundation on 0171 667 5000.

The Rumour Machine says: that Disney Theatricals is interested in Adventures In Motion Pictures Mathew Bourne to direct and choreograph their next project, which is a stage version of The Little Mermaid; that Kathleen Turner will follow The Graduate with a pre-Broadway tryout in Boston for Tallulah, which premiered at Chichester in 1997; and that following his appearance in Joseph, Donny Osmond now wants to play The Phantom Of The Opera. The Rumour Machine grinds on.