News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 10th July 1998

The Open Air Theatre Regent's Park no longer has an alfresco monopoly. Starlight Cinema is bringing outdoor movies to a giant screen at Alexandra Palace from 16th July to 16th August and Clapham Common from 20th August to 20th September. The programme features a number of films of theatrical origin, including West Side Story, Twelve Angry Men, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Romeo + Juliet. For more details check out their web site via our UK London Theatres section. Hope the weather improves!

Thelma Holt's previously mentioned production of Macbeth, with Rufus Sewell directed by John Crowley, has been brought forward to this Autumn. Hal Prince will direct Frank McGuinness version of August Strinberg's Miss Julie for Thelma Holt in Autumn 1999. Prince's interest was sparked by seeing the Broadway transfer of her production of McGuinness' version of A Doll's House last year.

Now in the record breaking seventeenth year of a whereisit run, the Barbican Centre is to receive yet another makeover, in order to render it less impenetrable. Although it seems like only yesterday that the previous management regime changed the signage, renumbered the floors and created a "more obvious" entrance in Silk Street with the gold statues of the Muses (subsequently removed), another 5m is about to be spent. Sir Terence Conran, as head of the Barbican advisory board, has approved a rethink by two Royal College of Art design students. After exhaustive on the ground research, they have devised a scheme to provide "constant reassurance to visitors in a language they will understand". Hmm. The Barbican is applying for a lottery grant to fund the plans, which are currently on display on the Stalls floor (Level -1) - if you can find them.

I spent one of the best nights out at the Barbican I've ever had, at Animal Crackers, playing in the Royal Exchange Theatre Company's mobile theatre pitched in the Sculpture Court. It seemed the very obvious, and financially sensible, answer to the Royal Shakespeare Company's desire for a third London venue, to house its Stratford Swan productions. Far better than sending people off to the Young Vic, the Barbican and/or the RSC should just hire the theatre from the Royal Exchange and keep them all in house. It should improve productivity of both the Barbican and the RSC, and deliver a different audience.

The Peggy Ramsay Foundation has launched its 1998 Play Award, which is worth up to 50,000 to the winning theatre company. Entrants must be professional companies submitting a previously unproduced work. The trustees reserve the right not to choose a winner, or award only part of the cash. Full details are available from Laurence Harbottle, Hanover House, 14 Hanover Square, London W1R 0BE.

West End theatres had their third best year ever in 1997, according to figures released by the Society Of London Theatre. Attendances were up 2.6% on the previous year to 11,466,248, although the number of performances fell by 516. Commercial theatres showed a 5% increase, while subsidised theatres were 7% down. Total receipts were up 17m to 246,081,850. Broadly similar attendance figures on Broadway produced 30% more revenue, underlining what good value London theatre is for its audiences, and how difficult things are for producers. The total amount of VAT paid by West End theatres was 36,641,857 - the total amount of grants awarded by the Drama Department of Arts Council of England was 27,044,500.

It seems that the Tricycle Theatre has picked up Ugly Rumours Tariq Ali and Howard Brenton's stab at a Dear Bill style satire on contemporary goings on at 10 Downing Street. Its history thus far could be described as mixed. The National Theatre declined to commission it, and West Yorkshire Playhouse turned the finished article down. There are four leading characters - Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. The title is derived from the group which provided the vehicle for Tony Blair's first bid for fame.

As part of its Broadway promotion scheme, the League of American Theatres and Producers is introducing a Live Broadway Visa Card. All purchases made with the card will earn cardholders points redeemable for a variety of theatrical items, including tickets, backstage tours and memorabilia. As an added incentive, if you apply for the card through a special freephone number, you will receive a framed poster from a current Broadway hit after you have made your first purchase. Unfortunately you must be a US resident to qualify, but a British equivalent would be a great initiative for the Society Of London Theatre to take up.

Hollywood To Cricklewood: Sharon Stone is the latest screen star seeking London stage cred. She is looking for an interesting project in the year 2000. Any offers? Meanwhile it's a return visit by Ralph Fiennes, in a yet to be announced Shakespeare at the Almeida Theatre next year, and Jessica Lange, in Eugene O'Neil's Long Day's Journey Into Night directed by Peter Hall (star handler supreme) at the Piccadilly Theatre in February.

Opera seems determined to retain its reputation as home of the third theatrical mask - you know: Comedy, Tragedy and Snobbery. Since the new theatre was built with increased capacity, Glyndebourne has sold standing tickets to the common people - available on the day in person only. This has resulted in undesirables queuing, at first all day, and recently camping overnight like Wimbledon. In order to spare its "real" patrons this unedifying sight, from next season standing tickets will be available by postal ballot. Of course this is being dressed up as improving accessibility but I think we can see beyond the spin.