News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 9th March 2001

This year's season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park has been announced. It opens on 11th June with the return of last year's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Alan Strachan. Love's Labour's Lost directed by Rachel Kavanagh joins on 15th June. This year's musical is Where's Charley? directed by Ian Talbot, playing from 26th July, in its first London revival since the original production in 1958. It is based on Brandon Thomas farce Charley's Aunt, with book by George Abbott, and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. In addition there will be a daytime children's promenade production Pinocchio In The Park, presented jointly with the Unicorn Theatre, running from 1st August to 8th September. It is a new adaptation by Michael Rosen of Carlo Collodi's Italian fairy tale directed by Emily Gray.

Science On Stage & Screen is an award scheme designed to support new stage and screen projects which engage audiences with contemporary biomedical issues. Applications must be received by 4th June, and winning projects will each be awarded up to 40,000. It is one of a number of schemes sponsored by the Wellcome Trust. Further information and details of previous winners can be found on the SOS&S web site via the link from the Organisations section of TheatreNet.

A musical adaptation of Peter Pan, with book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe, and music by George Stiles, will receive its British premiere in a concert version at the Royal Festival Hall on 26th May. John Thaw will play Captain Hook, with a cast that includes Jenna Russell, Laura Michelle Kelly and Graham Bickley, and Sheila Hancock as narrator. The show, which has already been seen in productions all over the world, will be directed by Julia Mackenzie and accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

The Hackney Empire has reached its restoration fund target of 15m thanks to a 1.3m donation from computer retailer Alan Sugar, who grew up in the borough. The Empire has also secured pledges for 3m of government urban regeneration money as well as 5m Arts Council funding. Work is now expected to start in May for completion in autumn 2002. The refurbishment will restore the auditorium, upgrade the technical facilities and dressing rooms, install a full-sized orchestra pit, and build a studio theatre. The theatre is one of only nine remaining of the thirty designed by Frank Matcham, the world's greatest theatre architect. The others in London are the Coliseum, London Palladium and Victoria Palace. Another architectural gem, the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road has just reopened, after a 2m refurbishment funded by local fashion retailer Peter Simon. It has seen the restoration of the original 1910 design by G Seymour Valentin, and the installation of state of the art technical equipment. In addition the front rows of seats can now be removed which will allow it to be used for small-scale concerts.

The City of London Sinfonia will celebrate its 30th birthday with a combined forces performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Barbican Hall on 20th March. Members of the Royal Shakespeare Company will perform the play accompanied by Mendelssohn's complete incidental music played by the CLS with the Joyful Company of Singers. Janet Baker will introduce the event which will be conducted by CLF founder and music director Richard Hickox, and directed by Jonathan Best.

St Paul's Covent Garden is living up to its sobriquet of The Actor's Church with four Sunday morning sermons devoted to current West End shows. Called Prompts, these 11.00am talks will be inspired by a wide range of plays from Entertaining Mr Sloane on 11th March, through Blue/Orange on 18th March, and Madame Melville on 25th March to The Cherry Orchard on 1st April.

Confirming the earlier rumour, Eve Ensler will present her The Vagina Monologues, previously only seen in London as one off performances, at the New Ambassadors Theatre in May. The show is based on interviews with a diverse group of women about how they feel about their bodies. There is speculation that big name guest stars may join her as they have in New York, where currently trios of actresses play two week seasons.

The 23rd Association of British Theatre Technicians Theatre Show takes place at the Royal Horticultural Halls London on 4th and 5th April. In addition to the usual stands featuring the products of leading lighting, sound and staging manufacturers, this year the show goes front of house to include seating, soft furnishings, box office systems, print and publicity, insurance and legal services. There will also be a free seminar programme and presentations of the ABTT and Stage Management Association Awards. Further information and online registration can be found on the ABTT web site via the link from the Organisations section of TheatreNet.

The world of dance lost one of its most influential figures this week with the death of dancer, choreographer and director Ninette de Valois on 8th March. She founded the London Academy of Choreographic Art in 1926 and persuaded Lilian Baylis to allow her pupils to appear at the Old Vic. On 5th May 1931 she masterminded a full evening of ballet which is considered the beginning of professional classical ballet in Britain. She guided the Vic-Wells company to become the Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet and established the Royal Ballet school that has shaped subsequent generations of British dancers. As the first director she established the Royal Ballet with music director Constant Lambert and choreographer Frederick Ashton. Quite simply she created British ballet.


This week the Arts Council of England announced how the extra 25m allocated to theatre will be shared among organisations across the country - when it finally arrives. The news is very welcome, but as ever with this perfidious government, while one hand is extended in friendship the other is preparing to stab you in the back. Apparently if/when it is returned to power on 3rd May it plans to scrap the Department of Culture. There is a limit to the size of the cabinet and so, like musical chairs, in order to set up a new Transport ministry another one has to drop out. Believing that there are more votes in Transport than Culture they see it as a no contest. What we should do during the coming election campaign is to make sure that there is loud and persistent opposition to this plan. It took thirty years to get a separate culture ministry set up, and whatever its defects, at least it gave the arts a seat at the table. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be sent back to the servants quarters again without a fight. Raise the question wherever you can, write to your MP and make a noise. We know that this government fears only one thing: bad publicity - so let's give it to them.