Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews
The Wyndham Report on British theatre, commissioned by the Society Of London Theatre and published this week, reveals that the total economic impact of West End theatre exceeded £1bn pounds in 1997. It is bigger than both the city accountancy sector, and the film and television industries combined. Last year London theatre contributed a surplus of £225m to the UK balance of payments, and produced £200m in tax revenues. It is responsible for 41,000 jobs, both directly in production and performance, and indirectly in the hotel and restaurant trades. Given the major economic benefit to this country, perhaps we can now look forward to both greater respect and assistance from the government.
Donmar Warehouse continues to revise its previously announced schedule. David Hare's The Blue Room will now be followed by a revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into The Woods, playing from 16th November until 13th February. It will be directed by John Crowley (responsible for the current How I Learned To Drive) and Jonathan Butterell. The piece imagines "what happened next" to a group of fairy tale characters - including Rapunzel, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Jack of beanstalk fame - and weaves the result into an adult story of self-discovery. This replaces Emma Thompson in As You Like It, which has been postponed until later next year.
The National Theatre's production of Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop musical documentary Oh, What A Lovely War!, which has been touring the country in a big top, returns London from 12th August to 3rd October. It sold out when it made a brief appearance on the South Bank in April. This time it's moving indoors, playing at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, with a cast which includes David Arneil, Joanna Riding and Sonya Swabey, directed by Fiona Laird. Joan Littlewood would have approved of the venue.
Showbiz invades the city. Last week concert promoter Harvey Goldsmith achieved stock market listing with a reverse take over of Tring International, an ailing budget CD and video distributor. Although Tring has technically taken over Goldsmith's Allied Entertainments, Goldsmith and partner Ed Simons are now in the driving seat. The deal gives them access to city investment for production, while CD and video distribution can extend the life of their shows. This week Goldsmith announced a merger with fellow promoter Raymond Gubbay. Both men are moving their companies from one offs, into seasons of arena ballet and opera, and repeat concert series, so the synergy is obvious. Whether one company can contain two personalities of the size of Goldsmith and Gubbay however, is debatable. The fireworks may not be confined to the Classical Spectaculars. Another city rumour is that Wembley may be about to make a bid of around £80m for Apollo Leisure. Wembley is poised to sell the stadium to the English National Stadium Trust for £103m, in order for it to be eligible for lottery funding for rebuilding. Apollo, owner/manager of 23 theatres plus an assortment of arenas, golf courses and cinemas, was involved in talks about a reverse take over of listed property company Carlisle earlier this year, but they foundered over price.
The Lady Boys Of Bangkok, featuring sixteen Thai transvestites, who present a "unique spectacular of cabaret, dance and comedy", is to play a (hopefully) limited season at the Queens Theatre from 3rd to 26th September. They will make their debut on the Edinburgh Fringe, and then be brought to the West End by Phillip Gandey, Effective Productions and Albemarle. Presumably the elephant man, bearded lady and Siamese twins are still looking for a venue. Will mail order brides be on sale in the foyer?
The Playhouse Theatre is up for sale again. Canadian Patrick Sulaiman, who bought the building two years ago, and spent a considerable amount on further refurbishment, has decided to sell. His original intention was to set up as a producing house, but his first venture The Wood Demon lost a large sum, and since then it has been operating as a receiving house, currently with Cheek By Jowl's Much Ado About Nothing. The theatre is still being programmed, and future events include a visit by Jackie Mason in Much Ado About Everything in November. Yours for £4m.
As previously forecast, Broadway diva Bernadette Peters - Barbara Cook for a younger generation - will make a one night appearance at the Festival Hall on 17th September in An Evening With Bernadette Peters, backed by a 32 piece orchestra. Cameron Mackintosh and Barry Clayman Concerts are the producers.
This week see the start of the Proms - the BBC's annual two-month festival of classical music performances at the Royal Albert Hall. This year, with seventy-three concerts from lunchtime to late night, the range of music is wider than ever. There are many special events, including an all day choral concert on 15th August, which culminates in Carmina Burana with a choir of over 1,000 voices. The Last Night on 12th September will again feature an open-air concert in Hyde Park, followed by a giant-screen relay from inside the Albert Hall. Full details can be found on the Proms web site via the link to the right of this column.
Oklahoma! received rave revues this week, in contrast to Dr Dolittle, which was revealed as more marketing opportunity than musical theatre. Nevertheless, the question is being asked: "Is Oklahoma! what the National Theatre should be doing?" I actually think not. Certainly it should be producing musicals, but the selection criteria ought to be the same as for its other work, namely, that it should find neglected masterpieces, present important world classics, and promote major new writing. I would hope that the literary manager of the National has a spy at all the Discover The Lost Musical readings at the Barbican. Some of the unsuccessful works by the great writing teams may turn out to have simply been ahead of their time. Last year's production of Lady In The Dark, although somewhat over-resourced, vindicates this theory - we should see more. As to presenting classics, Oklahoma! certainly is one, but it has been in the West End fairly recently, while most of the American post war greats have not been seen in London since their original productions. One of these would have made a better choice. As to new work on a large scale, many people were disappointed that a revival of A Little Night Music (again seen recently) was staged rather than Sondheim's latest (and in London unperformed) work. Meanwhile, although the Cottesloe is used to bring on new plays such as Closer, it remains closed to both the wealth of new musical writing talent in this country, and the entire canon of Off Broadway material which has never crossed the pond.