News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 18th February 2000

American actress Kathleen Chalfant will make her West End debut in Wit at the Vaudeville Theatre on 3rd April. Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize winning play about an English professor dying of cancer has been a big Off Broadway hit and is still playing at the Union Square Theatre. Lee Silverman directs, recreating the original production by Derek Anson Jones, who has died since the New York premiere in September 1998. The producer is Wit UK Ltd.

Rick Mather has presented the third major revamp scheme for the South Bank Centre. Rather than the complete transformations envisaged by Terry Farrell in 1989, and Richard Rodgers in 1994, Mather has gone for a more modest piece by piece mixture of refurbishment and development, which may be more achievable. It starts with a makeover for the Royal Festival Hall, removing the walkways outside and addressing the acoustical problems by removing the ceiling inside. Work is scheduled for next summer. The first new building is largely underground, but rising to three storeys and roofed in grass, on what is now Jubilee Gardens. This would house a centre for the British Film Institute, combining the National Film Theatre and Museum Of the Moving Image, and a replacement for the Queen Elizabeth Hall. A commercial development tower alongside would help to pay for it. The third phase would see the Hayward Gallery rehabilitated as a stand alone building with the walkways removed, and further commercial development on the QEH/Purcell Room site, which may include the retention of the QEH auditorium as a conference centre. The net result looks good for the BFI, but loses a vital small performance space, yet leaves the less than loved Hayward Gallery. Plans will go on display next month in the Royal Festival Hall as part of the consultation process.

The world premiere of Dusty Hughes Helpless at the Donmar Warehouse on 8th March will feature Ron Cook, Craig Kelly, Art Malik, Charlotte Cornwall, Julie Graham and Rachael Stirling. Set during the 1997 General Election campaign, it examines the reactions of different generations as events unfold. The director is Robin Lefevre. A companion piece perhaps to The Chiltern Hundreds at the Vaudeville Theatre which ends ten days later.

National Theatre plans for this year are for more regional theatre transfers and new writing in the summer and a second Ensemble season starting in the autumn. The transfers are: the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of Singin' In The Rain, directed by Jude Kelly, with Mark Channon, Zoe Hart, Paul Robinson and Rebecca Thornhill; and the Sheffield Theatres production of The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, based on Henry James Washington Square, with Eve Best, Alan Howard and Maggie Steed, directed by Philip Franks. New writing includes: Albert Speer by David Edgar, based on Gitta Sereny's book, with Alex Jennings directed by Trevor Nunn; Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, with Chiwetel Ejifor and Bill Nighy, directed by Roger Mitchell; and Alan Ayckbourn's previously mentioned House and Garden - two plays staged simultaneously in two auditoria with the same cast, starring Jane Asher and directed by Ayckbourn.

The new National Theatre Ensemble 2000 productions will include: Romeo And Juliet with Chiwetel Ejifor and Charlotte Randle, directed by Tim Supple; JM Synge's Playboy Of The Western World directed by Conall Morrison; Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland adapted by Simon Reade and Tim Supple (who also directs); and Marcel Proust's Rememberance Of Things Past adapted by Harold Pinter and Di Trevis (who also directs).

Derby Playhouse presents the British premiere of Speaking In Tongues by Andrew Bovell, the co-screenwriter of the Australian film Strictly Ballroom, from 12th May to 3rd June. It centres on the consequences of a night of double infidelity by two married couples. Mark Clements directs a co-production with Hampstead Theatre where it transfers at the end of the run.

New York seems to be taken with alternative Shakespeares, designed for a different generation of Off Broadway theatregoers. The Bomb-Itty Of Errors is a Hip-hop retelling of A Comedy Of Errors, which is billed as an "add-rap-tation", and involves a live DJ on stage spinning original music. Developed and directed by Andy Goldberg, it is presented by Daryl Roth at 45 Bleeker Street. Meanwhile The Donkey Show, subtitled "a midsummer night's disco", is very loosely based on A Midsummer Night's Dream using '70's disco hits, and staged in a club as an interactive experience with scantily clad fairies. The evening doesn't end when the show's finished. Created and directed by Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner. Weekends only at Club El Flamingo with late night performances. Both shows have web sites if you want to know more.

Further events have been announced for BITE:00 (Barbican International Theatre Event), running from May to October. In The Pit, the Traverse Theatre Edinburgh presents the European premiere of Canadian writer Michael Tremblay's Solemn Mass For A Full Moon In Summer, directed by Philip Howard. Credo Theatre of Bulgaria performs their new adaptation of Gogol's The Coat which was an Edinburgh Festival hit. Heads Up, Australian Arts 100 stages the London premiere of a double bill of one woman plays White Baptist Abba Fan and Box The Pony, celebrating the centenary of the Australian Federation in London. Following last year's Beckett Festival, the Gate Theatre Dublin returns with I'll Go On, an adaptation of Beckett's trilogy of novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, directed by Colm O'Brian. The Oval House combines carnival, myth and music in Clear Water by Christopher Rodriquez.

Northern Broadsides is to present the world premiere of Alcestis, the final work of Ted Hughes, at its home at The Viaduct Theatre Calder Valley in September. Based on the Euripides play about the myth of Alcestis agreeing to die in her husband's place to appease Apollo, parallels have been drawn with Hughes relationship with Sylvia Plath.

The Theatre Museum is presenting a season of Sunday events celebrating musical theatre from 19th March to 7th May. There will be concert performances of neglected British musicals of the late 1950's: A Girl Called Jo, music by Jon Pritchett and book and lyrics by Peter Myers, Alec Grahame and David Cline; and Follow That Girl, music by Julian Slade and book and lyrics by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds. Both events will include interviews with original cast members. A celebration day will feature the work of Ivor Novello with discussion, archive material and live performance. Kit Hesketh Harvey will host a 70th birthday concert of the work of Julain Slade. There will be four American Song Writers Study Days devoted to Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields and Alan Jay Lerner, with an audio visual presentation of their careers and work, followed by a song workshop led by David Kernan. Further details can be found on the Theatre Museum web site via the link from the Information section of TheatreNet.