News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 23rd July 1999

A new centre for the study and performance of the work of Shakespeare, is planned at the stately home where some scholars now believe he spent part of his early life. The £20m centre, modelled on Glyndebourne and designed by the same team, will be located at Houghton Towers in Lancashire. Former Royal Shakespeare Company director David Thacker will run the 800 seater theatre, which will stage its own summer festival, and receive tours by the RSC, the National and others during the rest of the year. Funding is being sought from the Lottery and American academic institutions.

Noel Coward's last play Song At Twilight will open at the Gielgud Theatre on 11th October, produced by Bill Kenwright. Corin Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave and Kika Markham star, in the story of a public figure whose ex-lover seeks his permission to publish some of his letters in her autobiography. Sheridan Morley directs, based on his production at the King's Head Theatre earlier this year. Kenwright also plans to present a musical of Brighton Rock, Graham Green's '50's spiv story, on which composer John Barry and lyricist Don Black are currently working.

News from the National Theatre: Remember This, a new play by Stephen Poliakoff, will open on 14th October, directed by Ron Daniels. A man in midlife crisis chances upon a technological mystery with cataclysmic consequences, which he endeavours to exploit. The Diary Of One Who Vanished, a song cycle by Leos Janacek, based on poems by Ozef Kalda in a new version by Seamus Heaney, will be staged in a joint project with English National Opera. There will be just four performances from 3rd November. Deborah Warner directs the story of a young man who abandons his home and is lured into the forest by his sexual infatuation with a gypsy.

Broadway provides living proof that musicals aren't written, they're rewritten. The Scarlet Pimpernel, with book and lyrics by Nan Knighton, and music by Frank Wildhorn, directed and staged by Robert Longbottom, opened at the Minskoff Theatre on 9th November 1997. A revised version - rewritten, restaged, mostly recast, and somewhat redesigned - opened on 4th November 1998, and even requested that it be considered for the Tony awards a second time. This version closed on 30th May 1999. Now, a third version, significantly scaled down and with a new leading man (but the same director) is touring to Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, before arriving back on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre on 8th September.

A limited number of tickets are now available for the 15th Vivian Ellis Prize Gala Showcase at the London Palladium on 21st September at 2.00pm. West End performers will present excerpts from the finalists in this year's national competition to discover, nurture and promote new writers in musical theatre working in Britain. A panel of experts chaired by Don Black will then give their verdict. Further details can be found on the Prize web site via the link from the Organisations section of TheatreNet.

John Barton's Tantalus, the epic ten play cycle about the Trojan War, which has taken twenty years to write, is to receive its world premiere in America. The previously mentioned fifteen hour marathon, to be played over three evenings, or two whole days, will be produced by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Outgoing head Donald Seawell has put up the $5m budget personally, as a farewell gesture, since no British theatre could raise the funding. Peter Hall is to direct, reuniting the partnership with Barton, which created the Wars Of The Roses history cycle for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964. It is hoped that a UK/European tour will follow.

After their debut last summer, New York Ballet Stars will make a return trip to the South Bank Centre for a short season from 5th to 7th August. Dancers include Peter Boal, Albert Evans, Paloma Herrera, Darci Kistler, Giuseppe Piccone, Ethan Steifel and Wendy Whelan. They will present a programme which includes works by Balanchine, and a world premiere by the original punk ballerina Karole Armitage, with music by Thomas Ades.

Phase one of the restoration of the Royal Festival Hall can finally begin, as the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £12.5m towards the £22.5m scheme. Detailed plans for further work can now go forward. It will start in the public areas, with the aim of making the most of the setting, restoring the roof terrace and riverside café, and reconnecting the foyers with the Queen's Walk. This complements work done on the National Theatre, creating Theatre Square. Demolition of the walkways behind the RFH has already started.

Battersea Arts Centre will hold its biggest ever Opera Festival from 13th August to 6th September. Highlights include: Modern Baroque Opera with Scarlatti's Venus And Adonis; Daylight Bobbery with a new contemporary work, Ex - A Martini Opera, music by Ross Lorraine and lyrics by Rob Young; Post Operative Productions with Carmen (1910), music devised and performed by Frances Lynch and VOCEM electric voice theatre, accompanying a silent film version of Carmen; Tete a Tete Productions with Shorts, a programme of six specially commissioned ten minute operas; and Greenwich Studio Theatre creating an Opera In A Week, with open rehearsals for Send For Mr Plum, a cabaret opera set in pre war Berlin, with music by Mischa Spoliansky, and book by Kurt Robitschek and Marcellus Schiffer, in a new version by Julian Forsyth.

The Rumour Machine says: that The Real Thing may follow the lead of The Blue Room, and bypass the West End, moving straight from the Donmar Warehouse to Broadway in the spring; that the recent West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar (currently touring) may open in New York next Easter, following dates in Toronto, Boston and Chicago; as may the recent West End production of Oliver! (also touring); and that negotiations are also in progress for Mamma Mia! to cross the pond. The Rumour Machine grinds on.