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Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 17th June 2005

With 26,995 performances, of 1,799 shows, in 333 venues, involving 16,191 performers, the 59th Edinburgh Festival Fringe, running from 7th to 29th August, is once again bigger than ever, retaining its position as the world's largest arts festival. As usual, new work plays a significant part, and 47% of the shows are premieres - 33% world, 6% European and 8% UK. 167 shows are free. It would take 5 years, 3 months and 25 days to see every performance back to back. Highlights include: Omar Marzouk in War, Terror And Other Fun Stuff; Bad Penny Theatre's Terrorist The Musical; and Andrew J Lederer in Me And Hitler, a comic examination of the Bush Administration. Among the wackier events, Cage is a tale of domestic violence where a fresh carcass is cut up in front of the audience; Murder In The Heart is a musical about the Yorkshire Ripper; and cabarets include Burlesk's Little Bo Peepshow, and Go Go Burlesco. Further information and online booking can be found on the Edinburgh Fringe web site via the link from Festivals in the Links section of TheatreNet.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has concluded a five year agreement with Delfont Mackintosh Theatres to present an annual London season at one of its venues. It will begin in December, by reopening the renamed and refurbished Novello Theatre, with a 16 week transfer of four comedies currently playing in Stratford. These will be Twelfth Night directed by Michael Boyd, The Comedy Of Errors directed by Nancy Meckler, As You Like It directed by Dominic Cooke and A Midsummer Night's Dream directed by Gregory Doran.

Broadway's 2004/2005 season, which ended recently, saw both box office and attendance numbers down slightly on 2003/2004, although this was due in part to the quirk of the calendar that resulted in 2003/2004 including a 53 week. Box office revenue was $769m, down $2m on the previous season, and attendances were 11.53m, down from 11.61m. This was despite an increase in playing weeks - the number of weeks in which theatres were filled - at 1,494, up from 1,451. The season saw 39 shows open, the same as in 2003/2004.

It's Official! As previously forecast here, Tommy Steele will star in Scrooge, Leslie Bricusse's musical adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, at the London Palladium from 8th November to 14th January. Steele has played the role for the last two Christmas seasons in Manchester and Birmingham. A separate production starring Shane Richie will run at the Bristol Hippodrome from 6th December to 21st January. Both productions are directed by Bob Thomson and produced by Bill Kenwright.

Opera North's home at the Grand Theatre in Leeds is closing for a 20.7m restoration programme, and the building of an adjoining opera centre housing rehearsal and technical facilities. During this time the company will perform new semi-staged productions of Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, directed by Giles Havergal, and Handel's Saul and Humperdinck's Hansel And Gretel, both directed by John Fulljames, plus concert performances of Verdi's Nabucco and Strauss's Salome at Leeds Town Hall. Next spring the company will tour a new production of Kurt Weill's Arms And The Cow, directed by David Pountney, plus revivals of Puccini's La rondine and Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro. A second phase of the development project will see the restoration of Leeds Assembly Rooms, creating a 350 seater flexible performance space, which will house Opera North's education programme.

Sheila Ferguson and Rober Fardell are to star in Behind The Iron Mask, a musical adaptation of Alexander Dumas's novel The Man In The Iron Mask, with music and lyrics by John Robinson, and book by Colin Scott and Melinda Walker, directed by Tony Craven, opening at the Duchess Theatre on 2nd August. It tells the story of an unknown masked man imprisoned for life by King Louis XIV of France in 1669, who was believed to be the King's twin brother. The producer is GBM Productions.

Those who prefer their performers to have four legs will be pleased to hear that the The Spirit Of The Horse is returning with a new show to venues across Britain between 25th August and 27th November. An international cast of riders, dancers and physical theatre artistes, together with 30 horses, including Andalusia, Arabian, Cossack and Friesian stallions, blend dramatic action, poetic motion, and comedy into a unique equestrian spectacular, created and directed by Phillip Gandey and Nikki Fossett. Further information can be found on the SOTH web site via the link from Shows in the Links section of TheatreNet.

Brits On Broadway: Fiona Shaw is to play Hans Christian Andersen in My Life As A Fairytale, as part of an all female cast biomusical about the Dainish author, conceived and directed by Chen Shi Zheng, with book by Erik Ehn and music by Stephin Merritt, in a Lincoln Center Festival production in July; and The Watermill Theatre Newbury production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, based on the legend of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by John Doyle, featuring 10 actor-musicians, will open at the Eugene O'Neil Theatre on 3rd November, starring Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone.

The autumn season at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester will include Romeo And Juliet, directed by Jacob Murray, from 7th September; the world premiere of All The Ordinary Angels, by Nick Leather, about sibling rivalry in Manchester's Italian community in the 1980s, directed by Michael Buffong, from 26th October; Mary Chase's classic comedy Harvey, the story of a small town eccentric who claims to have a friend who is an invisible six foot rabbit, directed by Greg Hersov, from 22nd November; and J M Barrie's What Every Woman Knows, about a family which is the victim of a recurrent burglar who never steals anything, directed Braham Murray, from 10th January.

The Rumour Machine says: that the Birmingham Rep production of Nigel Planer's On The Ceiling, a comedy about the painting of the Sistine Chapel, starring Ron Cook and Ralf Little, directed by Jennie Darnell, will transfer to the Garrick Theatre in late August; that the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh production of John Osborne's Look Back In Anger, with David Tennant and Kelly Reilly, directed by Richard Baron, will make a 50th anniversary appearance in London early next year; and that Peter Hall will direct Judi Dench in Noel Coward's Hay Fever at the Haymarket Theatre, also next year. The Rumour Machine grinds on.