News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 11th August 2000

Despite "jam tomorrow" announcements from the Department of Culture, arts funding is under attack yet again. The government has previously filched Lottery money from the arts to pay for health and social spending, by cutting the cake into smaller slices when it created a sixth good cause in the New Opportunities Fund. Not content with this, it now intends to take another whole slice. When the Millennium Fund is wound up at the end of this year, instead of redistributing its share equally among the remaining five good causes, all the money will be diverted into New Opportunities Fund. The NOF will then be receiving one third of the entire Lottery receipts. When the Lottery was originally set up under the previous government it was specifically stated that the money raised would not be siphoned off into general government spending. Despite assurances given before the last election this government is proving once again that it is not that interested in the arts when it sees electoral advantage elsewhere.

BAC Opera 2000, the sixth annual festival of opera and music theatre designed to "rescue opera from its delusions of grandeur" runs from 11th August to 2nd September. Highlights include Tete a Tete with the first performance of Vivaldi's Orlando Plays Mad since 1714; Absolute Theatre turning TV soap opera on its head with three action packed and emotion filled episodes (plus an omnibus edition) of Opera Soap; Kombat Opera presenting Tourette's Diva, a contemporary song cycle for a pair of foul mouthed mezzos by Richard Thomas; Opera A La Carte giving the London premiere of May We Borrow Your Husband? by Andrew Gaunt; and War In A Teacup by Barnaby Jones using sound without instruments. Scratch Performances will give a glimpse of the creative process in workshops of new projects, with Greenwich Studio Theatre in Lortzing's The Tsar And The Carpenter in a new adaptation by Julian Forsyth; and Cantabile in Passions - An Intimate Opera About Living by Stephen McNeff and Alice Oswald using video installation, poetry and a capella.

The Really Useful Group is taking its first step in overhauling the running of its theatres since buying Stoll Moss, by bringing the production of programmes in house. RUG intends to launch Theatregoer, a magazine style group programme which will be available at all RUG theatres - and on news-stands. It appears to be a similar venture to Playbill which provides programmes for most Broadway theatres. Playbill is a monthly publication of 100+ pages, 80% of which is general interest theatre features common to all venues, with just the central section devoted to the individual show. Although overall a much bigger read, the show material is generally just a cast list and biographies, with none of the background information on the production which is usually found in West End programmes. Playbill launched in London in the 1960's but did not capture the market and withdrew. In choosing the name Theatregoer RUG revives the title of a British theatre magazine title of the early 20th century. Of course the biggest difference between Broadway and West End programmes is that Playbill is free.

The new season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse features a Christmas revival of Half A Sixpence, music and lyrics by David Heneker and book by Beverley Cross, directed by Jude Kelly from 15th November to 20th January. Other productions include Roy Barraclough in a reworked version of Bill Naughton's Spring And Port Wine directed by Alan Dosser from 15th September to 28th October; Thelma Barlow in the British premiere of Smoking With Lulu by Janet Munsil directed by David Giles from 3rd November to 2nd December; Leslie Phillips in the world premiere of Naked Justice a satirical courtroom drama by John Mortimer from 26th January to 24th February; and Dora Bryan, Nichola McAuliffe and Zena Walker in the world premiere of Mister Heracles by Simon Armitage directed by Natasha Betteridge from 16th February to 17th March.

With this year's Fringe Festival well under way, some people in Edinburgh have voiced the concern that it is becoming too safe. The increasingly high costs of mounting shows, hiring venues and finding accommodation have resulted in a more conservative programme, presented by established producers, with an eye to television spin offs. To put it in financial perspective, the Assembly Rooms (one of the main Fringe venues) now takes almost as much at the box office as the entire International Festival. As a result the more off the wall material is being squeezed out by overtly commercial shows. In the same way that Off Broadway spawned Off Off Broadway, perhaps Edinburgh now needs a Fringe Fringe. Next year the council is to appoint a liaison officer to work with Fringe organisers to introduce a system of discounts for venues across the city to encourage new talent and producers.

Having proved he can juggle actors in space in two auditoria at the National, Alan Ayckbourn is about to take on time. The Christmas production at the Stephen Joseph Scarborough will be Whenever, a new family musical with book and lyrics by Ayckbourn and music by Denis King. In 1886 a nine year old orphan fleeing for her life climbs aboard her uncle's time machine and embarks on a journey to the end of time itself. Ayckbourn will direct.

Just two months after Britain's Pantomime King Paul Elliott resigned as managing director of E&B Productions, the troubled production conglomerate Qudos is facing another blow. David Ian, whose company David Ian Productions, merged last year with Elliott's E&B and Nick Thomas and Jon Conway's AMG (Artists Management Group) to form Qdos, has bought himself out for 1m. Unlike Elliott, who is banned from producing pantomimes for three years, Ian will take with him a stake in The King And I at the London Palladium and the upcoming national tour of Dr Dolittle. While Thomas and Conway brazen it out by welcoming the move as "an opportunity to expand and diversify"(!) others might have more of a Lady Bracknell response to losing two partners.

The National Youth Theatre is presenting two productions in its London season this year. A revival of Ray Herman's They Shoot Horses Don't They?, based on Horace McCoy's novel about 1930's Dance Marathons directed by Edward Wilson, runs at the Apollo Theatre from 7th to 16th September. Continuing the NYT's policy of developing collaborative work, Age sex loc@tion, a new piece devised by Paul Roseby and the company plays at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith Studio from 1st to 16th September. It explores the theme of "the young in a game of fast love and faster lies where young wannabee's play out their fantasies on the net". Er yeees.

On The Casting Couch: Sacha Distel will make his British theatre debut on 18th September as Billy Flynn in Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre; and Danny Babington, Finbar Lynch, Danny Sapani, Adrian Scarborough, Dougray Scott and Ray Winstone feature in To The Green Fields Beyond directed by Sam Mendes opening on 25th September at the Donmar Warehouse.

The Royal Opera House has announced its repertoire from November to March, although booking does not open until September. The Royal Ballet will perform revivals of Lilac Garden Mixed Programme (Lilac Garden - Symphonic Variations - La Valse - Gloria), The Nutcracker and La Fille Mal Gardee. The Royal Opera will present a new production of Rossini's La Cenerentola directed by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, and revivals of La Traviata, Falstaff and Palestrina. Among the events in the Linbury Studio will be the English Bach Festival Opera, and a series of concerts in association with IMG Arts, featuring international singers such as Ben Heppner and Thomas Hampson. Most areas of the Royal Opera House will be closed to the public from 21st August to 10th September to allow final work associated with its refurbishment programme to be completed.