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Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 13th December 2002

The new 15.7m Hampstead Theatre will open on 13th February with How To Behave by Station House Opera, a specially commissioned site specific piece combining music, video and live performance exploring the spaces in the theatre, which will run until 21st February. SHO have previously performed work at locations ranging from New York's Brooklyn Bridge to Salisbury Cathedral. The building is a dramatic structure, with the elliptical auditorium, designed for flexibility and capable of seating between 140 and 325, enclosed in a zinc casing which juts up through three floors, surrounded bridges, walkways and columns at different levels. The season itself starts on 27th February with the London premiere of Tim Firth's The Safari Party set in deepest Cheshire, which is more correctly a 'meal crawl' - moving from house to house for a different course at the home of each of three couples, with Alan Ayckbourn's production featuring Amanda Abbington, John Branwell, Daniel Casey, Daniel Crowder, Christine Moore and Helen Ryan transferring from the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough. A double header of two contemporary plays, the UK premiere of American writer Stephen Adly Guirgis's first play In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings, an ensemble piece set in a bar in downtown Manhattan, and Born Bad, a drama about two generations confronting and disputing a hidden truth, a new work by Debbie Tucker Green, directed by Kathy Burke, follows from 25th April. U.S. And Them by Tamsin Oglesby, examining the relationship between an English and an American couple which starts with a chance meeting in a restaurant, directed by Jennie Darnell, runs from 22nd May. The Space, a studio dedicated to education work that can seat up to 100, will be launched on 25th March with Fragile Land by Tanika Gupta, about two Asian schoolgirls pressured to stay within their own community.

The Rat Pack, the concert style tribute to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, which has toured extensively and recently played a week at the Peacock Theatre, will open a six week run at the Haymarket Theatre on 11th March. Set on a night at The Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in 1960, Stephen Triffit as Sinatra, Mark Adams as Martin and George Long as Davis Jr recreate a cabaret featuring classic songs from the 1950s and 60s.

Michael Attenborough has announced his first season as artistic director of the Almeida Theatre, which reopens after its 5.3m refurbishment in April. The first production will be Pam Gem's new version of Ibsen's The Lady From The Sea, about a woman's struggle with her past, directed by Trevor Nunn. This was originally destined for the National last year starring Nicole Kidman, but was held over because of her unavailability. This will be followed by Antony Sher starring in the world premiere of his first play, I.D., adapted from the book A Mouthful Of Glass, about the man who stabbed South African Prime Minister Hendrick Verwoerd, directed by Nancy Meckler. Then Michael Attenborough will direct the world premiere of Five Gold Rings, the second play by young award winning writer Joanna Laurens, about the conflicts of two brothers and their wives at a Christmas family reunion. The season ends with the British premiere of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss, about the investigation of a death near the Mexican boarder by the victim's two sons. Plans for 2004 include new translations of Sophocles Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus At Colonus, which Michael Attenborough will also direct, and possibly a new play by Neil LaBute.

The twelfth Almeida Opera season in the summer will include five world premieres: Who Put Bella In The Wych-Elm?, with music and lyrics by Simon Holt, in a double-bill with Salvatore Sciarrino's Infinito Nero, directed by Cathie Boyd, co-produced with Aldeburgh Festival; and a new music theatre piece by Elena Langer and the poet Glyn Maxwell; plus the three finalists in The Genesis Prizes for Opera, prior to performances in Aldeburgh in the autumn.

Paul Nicholas is to star in Fiddler On The Roof, with book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Block and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, which opens an extensive regional tour at the Grand Theatre Blackpool on 17th February. It is the story of a family trying to preserve their traditions in the face of the changing world of Russia at the turn of the 20th century.

Those masters of compression, The Reduced Shakespeare Company, are squeezing a third show into their residency at the Criterion Theatre. From 16th January The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (abridged), which follows their usual format, promising 'fig leaves to final judgment in 100 minutes' and was previously seen at the Gielgud in 1997, will be playing on Thursday nights. It joins The Complete History Of America (abridged) which plays on Tuesdays, and the original The Complete Works Of Shakespeare (abridged) on Wednesdays and Fridays to Sundays, which opened in 1996 and are the longest running comedies in London.

The spring season at the Young Vic will include: the European premiere of Red Demon, written and directed by Japan's leading contemporary writer Hideki Noda, which tells the story of a stranger washed up in a far away land, where the locals, unable to understand his language or why he looks so different, decide he is a demon and must be destroyed, with Marcello Magni, Tamzin Griffin, Samantha McDonald, Clive Mendus, Ofo Uhiara and Matt Wilkinson; Simply Heavenly, Langston Hughes musical comedy set in a bar in 1950s Harlem (based on a series of short character stories a la Guys And Dolls), with Clive Rowe, Ruby Turner, Des Coleman, Nicola Hughes, Melanie Marshall, Jason Pennycooke, Cat Simmons and Dale Superville, directed by Josette Bushell-Mingo, co-produced with the National Theatre Studio; Lope de Vega's tragi-comedy Peribanez, about a peasant girl who falls hopelessly in love with a nobleman whom she meets at the very moment she exchanges her wedding vows with a peasant, directed by Rufus Norris; and Tanika Gupta's reworking of Hobson's Choice, Harold Brighouse's comedy set in a Salford cobbler's shop, which relocates the story to a contemporary Asian business, directed by Richard Jones. Artistic director David Lan will not be directing during the season himself, but devoting his entire energies to the Young Vic's redevelopment plans.

The Rumour Machine says: that Matthew Bourne's Play Without Words (possibly the most successful production of the National Theatre's Transformation season) will return to the National in the autumn; that Andrew Lloyd Webber's roller-skating extravaganza Starlight Express is to undergo a makeover involving American songwriter David Yazbek prior to a relaunch next year as a stadium or big top touring show; and that next year's season at Chichester Festival Theatre will have a Venetian theme encompassing The Merchant Of Venice and The Gondoliers. The Rumour Machine grinds on.

And Finally . . . To go along with its restructuring, the Arts Council has been looking for a new "more inclusive " name (presumably not involving the words 'arts' and 'council'). It therefore consulted the top image gurus who have previously parted large organisations from vast amounts of money in similar quests, first Wolff Olins, and then Lambie-Nairn. Narrowly avoiding what you might call the 'Consignia' option of Aesthetica, the 50,000 search is over, and the result is: Arts Council. Just think what a hard pressed theatre company could have done with the money which has been wasted.