News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 19th May 2000

The Arts Council of England's response to the Boyden Report, which concluded that regional producing theatres can no longer afford to commission new work, take risks or keep creative talent within the industry, has recognised that radical changes are necessary. Even the People's Philistine, chairman Gerry Robinson acknowledged the crisis, admitting that "Since the mid-eighties, theatre has been inadequately funded". ACE is to ensure that substantially more money is available, and that it will find its way into the hands of the creatives rather than bureaucracy, to help theatres develop bold and new work. In a tacit admission of the failure of ACE policies in recent years, director Nicola Thorold said: "There will be no more schemes. This is about getting money to artists. The Arts Council will be championing British theatre, and particularly the practitioners." ACE is preparing to take a more strategic role once again, having lately devolved decision making to the regional arts boards. A theatre committee will be established consisting of "high profile respected practitioners" to provide a national overview and assessment. If this is actually carried out the money will be reaching many theatres literally at the 59th minute of the 11th hour.

Autumn plans have been announced for the New Ambassadors Theatre. In September Charlotte Jones In Flame, which premiered at the Bush Theatre last year, receives a West End outing. Set in 1909 and 1999 the play reveals how different generations of women are victims of over-bearing male ego. The director is Anna Mackmin and ACT Productions and Matthew Byam Shaw are the producers. Shared Experience returns in November with Polly Teale's production of Ibsen's A Doll's House.

Yet another development plan has been launched for Battersea Power Station, but this time the 500m project might just work. The building itself (a space the size of Trafalgar Square) would undergo a conversion not dissimilar to Bankside, to create permanent home for a Cirque du Solil company (custom designed like its Las Vegas venue), a children's theatre, a 16 screen cinema operating around the clock, an Olympic Spirit visitor attraction and a nightclub, plus shops and restaurants. New buildings on the site would include a 2000 seat proscenium arch theatre, film production units, a media centre, hotels, the glass UK pavilion from the 1992 Seville Expo, and housing. Transport would be provided by a shuttle train from Victoria station and by river bus and boat to a new pier. The scheme is a collaboration of high profile architects Sir Philip Dowson, Nicholas Grimshaw and Inskip & Jenkins. English Heritage has already given its approval, and planning permission could be granted this summer.

Nicholas Hawkesmoor's Christ Church once again hosts the Spitalfields Festival from 5th to 23rd June. The programme features a celebration of J S Bach, but also includes a wide range of music from medieval to newly commissioned work, and performers from The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge to Ritesh and Rajnish Mishra. For the first time, in addition to the lunchtime and evening concerts, there are a series of free early evening rush hour events featuring leading young performers and composers. All this plus fringe events, walks, talks and exhibitions about the Spitalfields area and the restoration of Christ Church, one of the great baroque churches of Europe. There is a link to the Spitalfields Festival web site from TheatreNet's Festivals section.

New Yorkers are asking if it was a genuine intention or classic marketing scam by Cameron Mackintosh. Either way, the business for the Broadway production of Cats has jumped to over 90% since June closure plans were announced. As a result the date of the last night has been pushed back by 11 weeks to 10th September, the 7485th performance. All eyes are now on the business of Miss Saigon for which he has announced a closure date in December.

The Almeida Opera season starts on 23rd June with the world premiere of Ion, Euripides' tragi-comedy about the plight of a mortal woman who is loved by an immortal god. David Lan's reworked version of the piece, previously performed as a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company, has a score by Param Vir Lan. The director is Steven Pimlott. The British premiere of Earth And The Great Weather by American writer John Luther Adams is on 6th July. Lighting designer Peter Mumford directs and designs this spiritual and physical journey among the landscapes of the Arctic. Also a British premiere, Nuit des Hommes, Per Norgard and Jacob F Schokking's multi media evocation of the poems of Guillaume Apollinaire opens on 12th July. The production directed by Jacob F Schokking is sung in French.

The Mercury Workshop, the only writer-based organisation in Britain dedicated to the development and presentation of new musical theatre, has launched a web site. The organisation runs a development programme, stages workshops and collaborative productions to nurture new work, and organises seminars, conferences and discussions aimed at furthering the cause of musical theatre. The web site includes a catalogue of new musicals written by its members, currently comprised of over sixty of the UK's most talented lyricists, composers and bookwriters. There is a link to the site from the Organisations section of TheatreNet.

The future of the Covent Garden Festival is under threat as the event's three core sponsors have withdrawn support of almost 400,000. After eight consecutive years, during which time the Fesival has gone from strength to strength, the BOC Group, Guardian Insurance, and American Express are ending their commitment. If the Festival is unable to attract substantial sponsorship the event will have to be drastically curtailed or even ended. Any offers?

The Unicorn Theatre has announced plans for the first ever custom built children's theatre in central London. A 9m redevelopment of the site of a disused fire station at London Bridge, in the new cultural quarter of Bankside, could be completed in 2003. Unicorn, established 53 years ago and the oldest professional theatre company for children in Britain, has started a building fund and is approaching the usual suspects for grants. Plans include a 350 seat theatre, a smaller space for young children, a foyer capable of hosting storytelling and music events, and rehearsal and workshop space. The intention is to combine in house production with receiving touring shows. Unicorn also hopes to stage open air events on the nearby Thames embankment. The company should feel at home because the site includes an alleyway called Unicorn Passage.

And Finally . . . Although the Barbican's BITE:00 season has only just started, the line up for next year is already taking shape. King Stag is a production by director/designer Julie Taymor, employing her trademark blend of puppetry, masks, live performers, and music to tell a medieval tale of castles, sorcery and mystical animals.