News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 19th February 1999

Sir Peter Hall dropped two bombshells during his acceptance speech at the Laurence Olivier Awards, only one of which was broadcast - the foundation of the Shadow Arts Council, with members which include Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and Harrison Birtwhistle. Its aim is to provide alternative expertise, commitment and concern for the arts to the official Council, which is now denuded of practitioners. The unbroadcast news, was that because the Council had prevaricated on providing funds for the return of his company to the Old Vic, Hall is moving to Los Angeles to set up the American Shakespeare Company. Early plans include Kelly McGillis in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and possibly Kevin Kline in Coriolanus and Christopher Plummer in King Lear. Thus the man who created both our major theatre institutions, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, is driven abroad to complete his life's work.

This year's season at the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park opens on 1st June with The Merry Wives Of Windsor, with Susie Blake, directed by Alan Strachan, joined on 4th June by Twelfth Night directed by Rachel Kavanaugh. The musical, opening on 23rd July, is A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Ian Talbot, featuring Roy Hudd and Susie Blake. A children's play running for matinees during August, will start in the theatre and promenade through the park, ending in the amphitheatre of the London Zoo. There will also be a programme of concerts on Sundays and Midsummer Night, including A Tribute To Benny Green on 8th August. The season ends on 4th September.

The transfer of Michael Blakemore's National Theatre production of Michael Frayn's award winning play Copenhagen, from the flexible stage Cottesloe, to the small but proscenium arch Duchess Theatre, has resulted in a unique opportunity for theatregoers who like to be really close to the action. There are 30 seats available at each performance on the stage, sold for just 10.00. A chance to be living scenery on a West End stage - and you don't even have to be an Equity member.

Showbiz invades the city: Chesterfield Properties, parent company of Mayfair Entertainments Group, owner of Associated Capital Theatres, the second largest London theatre chain, has at last formally stated that it intends to "realise asset value". In English this means selling off its component parts. There has been speculation for some while that Mayfair/ACT would be disposed of by a floatation, trade sale or management buy out. This announcement opens the bidding. Apollo Leisure, the major regional theatre owner, is also restructuring its business. There will now be two divisions: Entertainment - taking in theatre management and ticketing, and Leisure - covering amusements and clubs. Production will be handed over to long time associate company the Barry Clayman Corporation. Again Apollo has been subject to rumours of various takeovers and mergers recently. This could be the precursor to a major move.

The previously mentioned Gala Opening of the Royal Opera House, with Placido Domingo, Deborah Polaski, Stig Anderson and Robert Lloyd will be on 1st December. The Royal Opera season will open with a new production of Falstaff on 6th December, with the first Royal Ballet performance on 8th December.

Sardi's, the Broadway theatre restaurant, is such an institution that it transcends anything the West End can offer - apologies to The Ivy. For over seventy five years it has held a special place in the hearts of theatre people, ever since the 1930's, when the original owner used to feed and employ out of work actors. Its walls are lined with legendary Al Herschfeld caricatures of its famous patrons. Now Sardi's has inspired a musical, by Charles Nelson Reilly, Peter Matz and Daryl Hickman, which is supposedly Broadway bound some time this year. Of course it has a web site, complete with gift shop (unfortunately they don't deliver the food) a link to which can be found in our Emporium restaurants section.

Pantomime will return to a major London theatre next Christmas, when Sadler's Wells stages its own production of Dick Whittington, directed by Gillian Lynne from 16th December to 29th January.

Hits Under The Hammer, a charity auction in aid of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy and Norwood Ravenswood, will be the largest auction of music memorabilia ever, with nearly two hundred lots of signed original lyrics by stars from the 60's to the 90's. The items are not just on paper - the lyrics of Love Is All Around are on a guitar, which has been signed by Hugh Grant. The main event takes place at Sound Republic in Leicester Square on 22nd March. However, it will also be live on Internet Auctions at together with competitions and online interviews with performers between 15th and 29th March. But watch out, Things Can Only Get Better has been defaced by the signatures of the entire Cabinet.

Tim Rice will be inducted into the American Songwriters Hall Of Fame at the 30th annual awards ceremony on 9th June. Also being inducted will be Bruce Springsteen, Peggy Lee and the late Bobby Darin, and Stephen Sondheim will receive the Johnny Mercer Award.

Writer, director and performer Robert Lepage will bring a company of twelve Canadian actors to the National Theatre in his latest theatre piece, Geometry Of Miracles, for ten performances from 14th to 24th April. This will follow five shows at Glasgow's SECC from 30th March. The piece spans thirty years in the life of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, tracing the influence on his work of Georgi Gurdjieff, a Russian spiritual leader, and mathematician.

The Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The scheme offers an eighteen month course to aspiring theatre directors over the age of 20, with three attachments available to leading regional theatres. The appointments start in July. Directors who trained under the scheme include Giles Havergal, Nicholas Kent, Clive Perry and Tim Supple. For an application form send a large SAE to RTYDS, PO Box 292, Midhurst GU29 9XJ.