News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 10th December 1999

The annual report of the Theatres Trust - the government's own watchdog - contains a stinging condemnation of the government's policies towards the theatre. Director Peter Longman predicts that if theatres continue to be starved of funding, live entertainment will be reduced to "two men in a pub" plays and pantomimes starring ageing soap stars. He blames the policy of "access over excellence", which has diverted money from established regional repertory theatres. While lottery grants have gone some way to rectifying the enormous backlog of repair needed to regional theatre fabric, funding for production has declined. The roots of British performing arts are in the regional companies and they are being systematically killed off. Most theatres pay pitifully low wages, and offer working conditions which by the standards of other industries would be considered unacceptable. They exist on a ragbag of funding at the edge of bankruptcy, and in most cases a reduction in any of the sources of finance would bring disaster. The Trust's chairman Sir John Drummond also criticised Culture secretary Chris Smith for failing to mention theatre in his Cool Britannia manifesto for "the cultural industries". Drummond said "There is a growing tendency to believe that nothing has any value unless it reaches vast numbers of people. Somehow the head count has taken over from quality as a yardstick. There is no limit to the potential audience for dross, but what about the audience for quality? Is it to be dismissed because the numbers are relatively small? Must culture in our time be reduced to formulaic entertainment for the masses in the name of democracy?" The Theatres Trust was set up by an act of Parliament in 1976 to promote the better protection of theatres for the benefit of the nation.

Alan Plater's new play Peggy for You, currently playing at the Hampstead Theatre, will transfer to the Comedy Theatre on 27th January. Maureen Lipman stars as the legendarily eccentric literary agent Peggy Ramsay. In a career spanning over thirty years, she represented amongst others Joe Orton, Caryl Churchill, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Stephen Poliakoff and Plater himself. The cast also includes Crispin Redman, Selina Griffiths, Richard Platt and Tom Espiner, and the director is Robin Lefevre.

Hard Times, a musical by Christopher Tookey and Hugh Thomas, based on Charles Dickens novel, will open at Theatre Royal Windsor on 20th April, prior to a West End transfer. It stars Roy Hudd, Brian Blessed, Patsy Rowlands, Malcolm Rennie, Susan Jane Tanner and Peter Blake. The show uses a travelling circus to tell its story of the harsh life in a northern manufacturing town during the industrial revolution. Christopher Tookey will direct, with choreography by Gillian Gregory, and Bill Kenwright is the executive producer.

Entries are invited for the 16th Vivian Ellis Prize, the national competition to discover, nurture and promote new writers in musical theatre working in Britain. A Showcase Gala of the finalists will be held on 19th September, when the prizes will be awarded. Twelve of the twenty eight finalists from the last two years are in development with first class productions of their work following the prize. The opening musicals at the Royal Opera House and the Royal National Theatre this Christmas are by previous prize winners. Information and an entry form detailing all the award categories is available either by sending an A4 stamped addressed envelope to: 4 Shamrock Street, London SW4 6HE, or from the Vivian Ellis Prize web site, via the link from the TheatreNet Organisations section. The closing date for entries is 4th February.

Side Man by Warren Leight, which recently ended an eighteen month Off Broadway run, is to have its British premiere at the Apollo Theatre on 25th February. Several of the original cast, including Edie Falco, Michael Mastro, Kevin Geer and Frank Wood, will be joined by Jason Priestley as the narrator who looks back on his childhood. The show tells how a man's love of jazz ruins his marriage - and his wife's sanity. The produces are Weissberger Theater Group, Jay Harris, Peter Manning, Ron Kastner & James Cushing and Joan Stein.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra is to present Berlin to Broadway: The Music of Kurt Weill at the Barbican from14th to 16th January. It will include four premieres, six concerts and two recitals of music spanning 1919 to 1944, as well as a programme of lectures, films and talks. Highlights will be the British premieres of the opera Royal Palace and Trains Bound For Glory, a choral movement from the historical pageant Railroads on Parade written for the 1939 New York World's Fair; the European premiere of The Firebrand of Florence, about the life of 16th century painter Benvenuto Cellini, written with Ira Gershwin; and Ute Lemper in a programme of Weill's best known songs.

The Theatre Investment Fund in association with The Society Of London Theatre is holding a Workshop For New Producers from 24th to 26th February. This is an intensive course for anyone interested in producing or investing in the commercial West End theatre. It will provide detailed information on how to set up, produce and promote commercial productions, for those who have limited knowledge of production, or have not previously been involved. For an application form send a stamped addressed envelope to The Theatre Investment Fund, The Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 8AY.

Donmar Warehouse has announced its spring/summer season, which follows David Mamet's American Buffalo, with William H Macy, which runs from 28th January to 28th February. The world premiere of Helpless, this year's Carlton New Writing Initiative play by Dusty Hughes, directed by Robin Lefevre will run from 2nd March to 8th April. Passion Play by Peter Nichols, directed by Michael Grandage plays from 13th April to 10th June. Orpheus Descending by Tennessee Williams, a reworking of the Orpheus legend set in small town America, directed by Nicholas Hytner runs from 15th June to 19th August.

Swallow Productions will be presenting tours of Out Of Order by Ray Cooney, the premier of All In Vein by Brian Stewart, and Something's Burning by Eric Chappel during the next year. Information about investment in these productions can be found in the Investment section of TheatreNet.

The Almeida Theatre is to close for a year from 2001 while its 4.3 refurbishment programme goes ahead. The company plans to continue production both at a temporary home base (possibly the Old Vic) and in satellite operations such as its West End production of Cressida by Nicholas Wright, with Michael Gambon as a "Shakespeare In Love" style actor manager, directed by Nicholas Hytner opening at the Albery Theatre in March; the Gainsborough Studios season, with Ralph Feinnes as Richard II and Coriolanus, directed by Jonathan Kent; and its association with the Malvern Theatre.