News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 21st August 1998

The London production of the Broadway hit Ragtime, scheduled for the Prince Edward next spring, has been postponed indefinitely, following financial irregularities in the running of the American production company Livent. Chairman and chief executive Garth Drabinsky and vice-president Myron Gottleib have both been suspended, after an internal investigation found accounting discrepancies running into millions of dollars. The problems were discovered by a new management team, installed as a result of Michael Ovitz acquiring a substantial shareholding in the company. Livent's current New York plans, including the refurbishment of the Times Square Theatre, and the shows Parade, a co-production with Lincoln Centre, and Fosse: A Celebration In Song And Dance will go ahead as scheduled.

Mystery of the week is The Great Dance - a 1zn budget "astonishing laser dance spectacular" featuring Joss Ackland. It's not just that you might think Ackland's dancing days were done, but in spite of it being advertised heavily, when you ring the box offices of its seven dates around the country during September and October, they tell you it's off. The event is based on a mythological story of the Creation by C S Lewis, author of the unfathomably popular Narnia Chronicles. Ackland plays Lewis as storyteller - the device of the lesser skilled dramatist. The composer and creator and producer is David Burns, who has been working on the show since 1984. Stephanie Pettigrew is the director in a creative team of "over 150" including Robert Hamilton as the principal dancer. Further information would be welcomed.

The Royal Shakespeare Company's season at the Barbican opens with two new productions: Sheridan's The School for Scandal with Kenneth Cranham, Emma Fielding and Matthew MacFayden, directed by Declan Donnellan and designed by Nick Ormerod in the Theatre and Troilus And Cressida, featuring William Housten and Jayne Ashbourne, directed by Michael Boyd in The Pit. The rest of the plays in the repertoire are transfers from Stratford. In the Theatre: The Merchant Of Venice with Philip Voss and Helen Schlesinger, directed by Gregory Doran; The Tempest featuring David Calder, Penny Layden and Robert Glennister, directed by Adrian Noble; and Measure For Measure starring Stephen Boxer and Clare Holman, directed by Michael Boyd. In The Pit: Shadows: An Irish Trilogy directed by John Crowley; The Two Gentlemen Of Verona directed by Edward Hall; and Bad Weather directed by Stephen Pimlott.

Producer Bill Kenwright's hit factory at the Theatre Royal Windsor has two more shows on the production line this winter. First, Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove star in Vertigo, a stage version of Hitchcock's classic film. Sean O'Connor directs, and also adapted Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac's novel D'Entre Les Morts, on which the film was based. Then comes the world premiere of Bernard Slade's comedy Same Time, Another Year, unsurprisingly the sequel to his veteran two hander Same Time, Next Year.

As part of its education programme, Shakespeare's Globe is holding a three day seminar on Shakespeare and Astrology called Star Crossed Lovers, from 3rd to 6th September. Led by author and psychological scholar James Hilman and his son Laurence, a teacher and astrologer, it will include contributions from director Richard Olivier, composer Claire van Kampen and artistic director Mark Rylance. The discussion will explore Elizabethan belief in alchemy, magic and astronomy, and how it is reflected in the images and symbols in Shakespeare's work. Tickets cost a hefty 225. Check out the Globe web site via the link from our London Theatres section.

National Theatre News: Following its recasting, the first night of Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle And Dick has been put back to 21st September. Anthony Calf will join Imogen Stubbs and Douglas Hodge in Trevor Nunn's revival of Pinter's Betrayal. Michael Bryant will play the storyteller in the Christmas revival of Peter Pan. Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen is to tour - to Copenhagen. Jonathan Harvey's new play Guiding Star, another in the "post Hillsborough" genre, featuring Colin Tiernet and directed by Gemma Bodinetz, will open in the Cottesloe on 11th November. This follows its world premiere at the Everyman Liverpool on 30th September.

As A Level results are published, the funding crisis in performing arts training is really beginning to bite. There is now a major drama school that may not be able to sustain one of its courses, because there are not enough potential students who can afford to pay its fees. Local Authority funding for performing arts courses is discretionary, and these grants have virtually disappeared. The crisis has been exacerbated by the action (or inaction) of the Department for Education and Employment. There is an Arts Council scheme, designed to help stretch limited resources, by offering top up funding to match Local Authority grants, if they are below a full award. The scheme is failing however, because the minimum qualifying figure of the Authority contribution is set too high. With a possible 1000 top ups available this year, only 351 applications have been received. It was made perfectly clear to the DfEE that this trigger point needed to be lowered to make the scheme work, but they have refused to budge. So the Arts Council can't release the money, the students are denied training, and the drama schools can't fill their courses, with the result that they will start going bust. What sort of Alice In Wonderland way is this to run an education system?