News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 18th December 1998

Shelagh Stephenson's bruising comedy of family life The Memory Of Water, currently touring, will open at the Vaudeville Theatre on 12th January. Samantha Bond, Julia Sawalha and Alison Steadman play three sisters who are reunited at their mother's funeral, where old grievances resurface. It is directed by the ubiquitous Terry Johnson, and produced by Lee Dean and Greg Ripley-Duggan.

Celebrating the move to its new premises, the Magic Circle is opening its inner sanctum, The House Of 10,000 Secrets, to the public for one week only. It will present The Magic Circle Christmas Party from 28th December to 3rd January, with morning, afternoon and evening performances.

For the first time, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group has posted a loss. Its accounts for the year ending June 1997, show pre tax profits of 30 in the previous two years, plummet to a 14m deficit. This indicates just how much money was lost on the various productions of Sunset Boulevard, the original tryout of Whistle Down The Wind and the West End revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. The situation was exacerbated by a general slowing down of global revenue from box office and merchandise on the continuing long runners. This is the background to the corporate blood letting of some months ago, although RUG may have turned the corner now. The London production of Whistle Down The Wind, if not sold out as is claimed, is trading profitably, though in a medium sized theatre, it will never be a moneyspinner like the early shows. Meanwhile the Cats video has already sold 3m copies and the holiday season is not yet over.

Shakespeare's Globe is returning to the authentic cross gender casting it tried out in its opening season, but this time in a far more prominent role. It is joining the avalanche of Antony And Cleopatra productions, but with artistic director Mark Rylance as Cleopatra.

Oh yes it is! The Theatre Museum is staging a series of Pantomime Workshops - 30 minute interactive sessions, led a team of actors, giving visitors the opportunity to take part in classic comedy routines, so watch out for the "splosh". There will be costumes of the main character types such as Principal Boy and Dame, but with the emphasis on animals, from mice to cows. The workshops will be held daily at 12.30pm and 2.30pm from now until (surprisingly) 14th February. What better way to dump your current inamorata, than to take her there on Valentine's day, stand her in front of a pantomime cow, and say Ring any bells? Just a suggestion.

Continuing its occasional series of showcase performances, the Almeida Theatre is presenting poet and performance artist John Hegley (the Poet Laureate of Luton) on its home turf in Islington from 4th to 9th January.

Further projects in the Noel Coward centennial year in London will include a National Theatre production of Private Lives, a West End production of Hay Fever (there will also be a film version featuring Joanna Lumley), a Peter Hall production of Design For Living, a new revue A Talent To Amuse, an English National Opera production of one of his musicals, and The Covent Garden Festival will take Coward as its theme. Present Laughter with Ian McKellan and Claire Higgins at the West Yorkshire Playhouse has already started the list of regional productions, which will also feature Cavalcade at the Glasgow Citizens, and Nude With Violin starring Derek Griffiths at Manchester Royal Exchange.

The previously mentioned production of Tennessee Williams Suddenly Last Summer, featuring Rachel Weisz and Sheila Gish will open at the Comedy Theatre on 14th April. This will be the first West End showing of the play, as the original was seen only at a club theatre. Sean Mathias directs, and the producer is Warehouse Productions.

The Asian comedy show Goodness Gracious Me, which conquered first Radio 4, then BBC 2, is now taking to the stage. It will play a series of one nighters across the country in February and March, with the original cast of Sarjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal and Nina Wadia, presented by Phil McIntyre.

The Royal Opera, having agreed a 1.35m compensation package with Sadler's Wells Theatre for cancelling its twenty one week season, is now planning to appear there after all. It will present Britten's Paul Bunyan in April. This can be taken as either typical of the confusion that still reigns, or as a positive sign that under the regime of the new Chief Executive Michael Kaiser, and new contracts with performers, musicians and technicians, the corner has finally been turned. This and other concert performances have been enough to persuade music director Bernard Haitink to withdraw his threat to resign. The Arts Council has agreed significantly increased funding of 16m next year and at least 20m a year thereafter. One of the conditions for this has been a reduction in seat prices for matinees and weekend performances.

The Abbey Theatre Dublin is bringing Dion Boucicault's Irish comedy The Colleen Bawn to the National Theatre from 17th to 27th March. A clandestine marriage provides the setting for the usual collection of Boucicault eccentric gentry and peasantry, in their customarily convoluted misunderstandings. The director is Conall Morrison.

On The Casting Couch: Lisa Stokke and Andrew Langtree, who last June were among the first graduates from the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (the Merseyside FAME academy - Patron: P McCartney) will be joining Siobhan McCarthy as the leads in Mamma Mia! the musical written around the ABBA songbook, which opens at the Prince Edward Theatre in April. Should you wish to follow their path, there is a link to LIPA from our Training section.

It is welcome news that there is to be a 15% rise in funding for the Arts Council this year, with rises of 5% and 7% thereafter. This will enable the Council to make its first grant rises in real terms to major institutions for a number of years. However, the Department of Culture's latest mission statement: A New Cultural Framework, once again gives cause for concern. A new arts quality control watchdog is to be set up, called Quest (Quality and Efficiency Standards Team). The problem is, based on the evidence of its recent appointments, the Culture Department wouldn't recognise Artistic quality if it bit it on the foot, and is therefore unable to make an informed choice of anyone else who does. Even the People's Philistine, Arts Council chairman Gerry Robinson said: I'm hugely supportive of anything that tries to improve arts practice, but I think this is the worst possible way of going about it. So how likely is it that we practitioners are going to agree with Quest's pronouncements? And where will we go from there? You can't get away from the basic fact that what the arts need is more money and less management.