News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 23rd October 1998

The future of the Peter Hall Company lies in the balance once again. Its association with Bill Kenwright will definitely end on 2nd January, when the run of Kafka's Dick finishes. The Old Vic has offered a residency, but can only contribute the building. PHC has applied to the Arts Council for an annual 500,000 guarantee against loss, with a pledge to find matching commercial funding. After Gerry Robinson's stated Arts Council policy of no longer funding anything condemned as being "white middle class" it doesn't look hopeful. Now that the Royal Shakespeare Company has gone part time, and the National has opted for bank raid straight runs, it would seem that as a resident company with a classical repertoire, PHC is needed now more than ever.

There is a plan to reopen Greenwich Theatre, which was forced to close when its London Arts Board funding was withdrawn. Two former artistic directors, Ewan Hooper - who launched the theatre in 1969 - and Alan Strachan, both of whom live locally, have joined forces to form the Greenwich Stage Company. With support from the theatre's board of directors, they have put together a season of four plays, with named actors, to be staged in the spring. By mounting co-productions with other venues, this will be done for 100,000, and they are now looking for help from the local authorities. Unfortunately the Greenwich Council is likely to support the idea of the theatre becoming merely a receiving house, rather than a producing one. This could hardly be a viable proposition however, because its size and facilities preclude the major tours which go to Richmond and Wimbledon. It would therefore only take midscale productions, unlikely to be viable set against the competition of the West End.

The BBC's commercial arm is moving into CDs, launching a BBC Music label. The first four titles in the Celebration series are Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Julie Styne and The Musicals. These will use the BBC's vast catalogue of material specially recorded for its musical theatre productions, featuring West End artists and broadcast regularly on Radio 2.

Alexander Ostrovsky's rarely performed play The Storm, in a new version by Frank McGuinness, will open at the Almeida Theatre on 17th November, running until 19th December. Set in 19th century rural Russia, the play's central character seeks sexual and spiritual release from a passionless marriage (unlike most Russian plays). The story was the inspiration for Janacek's opera Katja Kabanova. It features Susan Lynch, Tom Mannion and Maggie Steed, and is directed by Hettie Macdonald. Ostrovsky's plays should be sponsored by London Transport - you don't see one for ages and then two come along together, because . . .

Ostrovsky's The Forest, in a new version by Alan Ayckbourn, opens on 28th January at the National Theatre. An impoverished actor pretending to be rich, arrives at his aunt's country estate, and finds not the peace he craves, but a hotbed of intrigue, treachery and forbidden love (unlike most Russian plays). It features Frances De La Tour as the aunt, and is directed by Anthony Page. Also at the National opening on 11th February, will be The Riot by Nick Darke, directed by Mike Shephard. It tells the story of a dispute amongst fishermen about Sunday observance, which turns into a battle between rival towns, and the mayor who is caught in the crossfire. The entire run of Antony And Cleopatra was officially sold out before the first preview - luckily for the National, to judge by early reactions.

A veritable who's who in Broadway lighting design, including Donald Holder, Peggy Eisenhauer and Beverly Emmons, led by Jules Fisher, makes up the faculty of the 6th Annual Broadway Lighting Master Classes, which will be held in New York from 10th to 13th December. The programme includes a visit to Ragtime and a discussion with its design team. Full details are on the ETEC - Entertainment Technology Online web site via our Information section.

The Royal Shakespeare Company will present another season at the Young Vic in the new year, with two transfers from Stratford. Stephen Poliakoff's production of his latest play Talk Of The City, about a politically motivated TV producer's attempts to air a programme about the holocaust, opens on 10th February, with David Westhead, Angus Wright and Kelly Hunter. Laurence Boswell's production of Ben Johnson's Bartholemew Fair, the seventeenth century London low life comedy opens on 24th February.

Talking of which, although the main season is over, Shakespeare's Globe has a programme of staged readings of City Comedies by Shakespeare's contemporaries, on Sunday afternoons in November. 1st: The Three Lords And Their Ladies by Robert Wilson, in which post Spanish Armada fervour evokes a defiance similar to that of the Blitz. 8th: Eastward Ho! by George Chapman, Ben Johnson and John Marston, the satirical comedy which landed the authors (like their characters) in jail. 15th: Ram Alley or Merry Tricks by Lording Barry, set in the passageway linking the Temple and Fleet Street, frequented by ruffians, whores, conmen and - worst of all - lawyers; 29th: The Puritan or The Widow Of Watling Street by "W.S." a satire on the hypocrisy of puritan attacks on the theatre. 6th December: The Fair Maid Of The Exchange (Anon), set in Gresham's Royal Exchange, counterpointing the price and value of love. Each reading is preceded at 12noon by an introduction to its background by Diana Devlin.

On The Casting Couch: The eighth cast of Art at Wyndhams Theatre from 8th November will be Tim Healy, Larry Lamb and Jack Dee returning to the play, but in a different role.