News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 25th February 2000

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, the winners of the first Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals in 1985 with Just So, took this year's Olivier Award for Best Musical for Honk! It has the distinction of being the first new British musical to be produced by the National Theatre, and the first original British musical to win the award since The Phantom Of The Opera in 1986. The Vivian Ellis Prize continues working to discover, nurture and promote new writing talent in musical theatre in Britain. This year over 270 writers, working either alone or in collaboration, have entered 170 new musicals - an increase of 30% on last year, and a record for any year since the Prize was launched. A lucky 6 to 8 writing teams will be selected to have their work showcased with stars of the West End at the London Palladium on 18th September. The contenders range in age from 16 to 78, and their subjects include prisoners serving life sentences, ancient Chinese myths, and the study of UFO's. Further information can be found on the Vivian Ellis Prize web site via the link from the Organisations section of TheatreNet.

Glyndebourne has announced this year's season running from 20th May to 27th August. It is made up of new productions of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni directed by Graham Vick, and revivals of Cosi fan tutti also directed by Vick, Janacek's Jenufa directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, Britten's Peter Grimes directed Trevor Nunn (recreated by Stephen Rayne), and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress directed by John Cox.

Cats will have its last miaow in New York on 25th June, when the longest running musical in Broadway history closes, after 7397 performances at the Winter Garden Theater. The production statistics covering this period are alarming: 1.8m pounds of dry ice boiled up, 3247 pounds of yak hair used for the costumes, and 284 actors employed, including Marlene Danielle who has been there for the entire run. The Winter Garden will be closed for refurbishment for some months, and word is that it will house the new Kander and Ebb musical The Visit with Angela Lansbury in late autumn.

Hot on the heels of the current season of Tango Por Dos' Una Noche De Tango at the Peacock Theatre will come a tango opera. Maria de Buenos Aires, with music by Astor Piazzolla and libretto by Horacia Ferrer, will receive its UK premiere on 2nd June. Originally produced by Houston Opera Theatre, it was choreographed by Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs, the founders of Tango Por Dos.

The future of the inter-war architectural gem the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, a 1000 seat Grade 1 listed theatre, is in doubt. The local authority is considering transferring the running of the building to a commercial management company. Worse still, the name of the pub chain JD Wetherspoon, which has turned live theatres across the country of into bars, has been mentioned as front runner. Since the local authority is looking for a way of reducing its financial support to the De La Warr, prospects for its continued use as a live performance venue look grim.

Reality Check Warren Mitchell: "You don't retire in this business, you just notice that the phone hasn't rung for ten years."

The Sprint Festival of physical, visual and unusual theatre is running at Camden People's Theatre from 28th February to 7th March. It features the work of ten companies, presenting shows ranging from the absurd to the terrifying, including clowning, an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, "a 15 minute solo experience of an interactive environment of lights, soundscape and live animation", and two plays staged in the windows to be viewed from the pavement outside. There will also be discussion afternoons with guest speakers including Jane Edwardes, John Wright and Tom Morris, and workshops led by Annabel Arden, David Sant, Polly Teale, David Glass and Guy Masterson. Full details from the Camden People's Theatre web site via the link from the London Venues section of TheatreNet.

English Touring Theatre's spring tour is Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in a new translation by Stephen Mulrine, opening at the Forum Malvern on 28th April. It stars Prunella Scales, Clare Calbrath, Michael Feast, Frank Middlemass and John Quentin. Stephen Unwin directs.

The Ambassadors Theatre Group, which finally completed the purchase of Associated Capital Theatres last week, will not take over the programming of the Criterion Theatre. This job will revert to the Criterion Trust which owns the lease, and will in future operate in the same way as the Old Vic Trust, which looks after its own programming.

The Almeida Theatre's out of building experience at the Gainsborough Studios is going global. Ralph Feinnes as Richard II and Coriolanus will play at New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music in September, and then move on to Tokyo. Jonathan Kent directs a company which includes Linus Roache and Emilia Fox. The season opens on 12th April, and once the repertoire is complete both plays will be performed on Saturdays.

The seating sub-committee of the European Union's standardisation committee has turned its attention to theatres, and is threatening to introduce a minimum seat width of 500 millimetres in the interests of customer comfort. (Could this be a German inspired plan?) Needless to say the majority of British theatres, being Victorian, have seats in the 420-450mm width range and would have to be reseated to comply with Club Class rules. This would pose huge problems for theatre managements, not just because of the expense of replacement and reduction in capacity, but because so many of them are listed buildings. The Theatre Royal Newcastle, is believed to be currently the most luxurious at 580mm, and the recently reopened Royal Court boasts bench seating with 520mm between the armrests. In true British style, some theatre luminaries believe that offering audiences too much comfort would be counter-productive. Peter Hall is convinced a degree of discomfort encourages the audience to pay attention and give the actors intelligent feedback.

With the London Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of Gyorgy Ligeti's Poeme symphonique for 100 metronomes looming, the search for the instruments is becoming ever more frantic. If you have a wind up metronome which could stand its fifteen minutes of fame, call the LPO metronome hotline on 0171 261 0755.