News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 16th November 2001

It's Official! As previously forecast here Stephen Dillane will play the title role in the UK premiere of Life After George, by Australian playwright Hannie Rayson, opening at the Duchess Theatre on 19th February. The twist is that George is dead. His life as a charismatic university professor with a history of hippy activism in the 1960s is told in a series of flashbacks, which are the recollections of his three ex-wives, who meet to discuss his funeral arrangements. Cheryl Campbell and Joanne Pearce will also star, with Michael Blakemore directing. The producer is Michael Codron.

The Broadway company of Jeremy Sams National Theatre production of Noises Off, Michael Frayn's backstage comedy, offers further evidence that the post 11th September theatre crisis is over. The show opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre to rave reviews, and has set a new box office record for a play by taking $300,000 in one day, resulting in an advance of over $2m.

A new venture called the Close For Comfort Theatre Company is doing more to promote access to live theatre than the various Arts Councils and the Department of Culture put together - it is taking theatre to people's living rooms. The company performs two one act plays, one drama and one comedy, each lasting about 55 minutes, to groups of 10 and above in their own homes. Although based in Surrey, CFCTC are strolling players, and will travel anywhere in the country. The advantages for audiences: no travelling, no traffic, no queuing for tickets, no crowds - and no problem getting drinks in the interval. Further information can be found on the CFCTC web site via the link from the UK Theatre Companies section of TheatreNet.

On The Casting Couch: The stage musical version of Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which opens at the London Palladium on 16th April, will star Michael Ball as Caractacus Potts, Anton Rodgers as Grandpa Potts, Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe as Baron and Baroness Bomburst, Richard O'Brien as the Child Catcher, and Emma Williams making her West End debut as Truly Scrumptious.

The Slade School of Fine Art is to close its theatre course, probably the most respected in the world, when its present students graduate in two years time. College authorities claim that falling intake numbers have made the course unsustainable. Since its foundation in 1929, by Vladimir Polunin, a designer with Diaghilev's Ballets Russees, the course has produced designers who have worked in theatre, ballet and opera all over the world. Moritz Junge, this year's winner of the Linbury Prize for stage design, is a Slade graduate, as were 4 others on the shortlist of 12 candidates.

The previously mentioned world premiere season of the musical Dracula at La Jolla Playhouse in California has been extended, and the show will open on Broadway next autumn, under the auspices of Dodger Theatricals, Clear Channel Entertainment and Nederlander Presentations. Book and lyrics for the adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic tale are by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and music by Frank Wildhorn. Playhouse artistic director Des McAnuff directed with Tom Hewitt in the lead. Further information can be found on the La Jolla Playhouse website via links from the International section of TheatreNet.

The Oxford Stage Company returns to the West End with its touring production of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls at the Aldwych Theatre from 9th January to 2nd February. It features Hattie Ladbury, Helen Anderson, Pascale Burgess, Elizabeth Berrington, Joanna Scanlan, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Sophie Shaw, and the director is Thea Sharrock. The premise is a contemporary dinner party with five historical figures as guests: the Victorian traveller Isabella Bird: Lady Nijo, a mediaeval Japanese courtesan who became a Buddhist nun; Dull Gret, who in a Bruegel painting led a crowd of women on a charge through hell; Patient Griselda, Chaucer's obedient wife; and Pope Joan.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has finally confirmed the productions for its farewell season at the Barbican, from 11th December to 11th May, although backstage staff have voted for strike action over redundancies, and Christmas performances are subject to cancellation. In the Theatre: Samuel West as Hamlet, directed by Steven Pimlott; Twelfth Night, with Zoe Waites, Jo Stone-Fewings and Guy Henry, directed by Lindsay Posner; Edward Hall's production of Julius Caesar, with Greg Hicks, Tom Manion and Tim Pigott-Smith; King John, with Guy Henry, Jo Stone-Fewings and Kelly Hunter, directed by Lindsay Posner; and A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Richard Jones, making his RSC debut. In The Pit: Martin Mcdonagh's The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, The Prisoner's Dilemma by David Edgar, Peter Whelen's A Russian In The Woods, and the premiere of Night Of The Soul, a contemporary spiritual ghost story, written and directed by David Farr.

Brodie & Middleton, one of Britain's best known theatrical suppliers is going from strength to strength under new ownership. The 160 year old supplier of traditional paints, brushes, and other artists and prop making essentials has been joined at its base at the rear of Theatre Royal Drury Lane by Russell & Chapple, the specialist in canvas and scenic materials. Brodies has always been a family run business based in Covent Garden, with ownership shared between two families, neither of which was called Brodie or Middleton - the origin of the name remains a mystery. Further history and all current products, including a 10% discount on Christmas Snow and Frost (Ho! Ho! Ho!) can be found on the Brodies web site via the link from the Suppliers section of TheatreNet.

Eve Ensler, who has exploited her Vagina Monologues franchise almost as ruthlessly as McDonalds, has come up with a new line in Necessary Targets, which starts a premiere season at Hartford Stage in Connecticut on 23rd November. Again based on interviews with women, this time survivors of the recent warfare in the former Yugoslavia, it uses the format of two American women played by Shirley Knight and Catherine Kellner, who travel to Bosnia to help victims confront their experiences. Michael Wilson directs.

The Rumour Machine 2002 says: that Richard E Grant may play the suicidal advertising executive who is bewitched by the woman in the yellow dress in the West End production of Susan Stroman's Broadway dance musical Contact; that Alan Ayckbourn's previously mentioned Damsels In Distress trilogy, which premiered at Scarborough earlier this year, will undertake a regional in the spring, prior to a West End transfer; and that Brian Conley may star in John Fisher's An Evening With Tommy Cooper, also directed by Ayckbourn, in the autumn. The Rumour Machine grinds on.