News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 25th June 1999

A R Gurney's Love Letters are to be read in London again, at the Haymarket Theatre from 8th July to 1st August. One of the West End's most regular "fill in" shows, seen with a variety of American star pairings over the years, returns with Charlton Heston and Lydia Clarke Heston doing the honours this time. The letters trace the development of a couple's relationship over a fifty year period.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane is relaunching its Backstage Tour as an "interactive experience". Three actors will now portray characters who played important roles in the three hundred year history of London's greatest theatre. Participants in the one-hour tour, which covers all parts of the building, will now meet (amongst others) playwright Richard Sheridan, clown Joey Grimaldi, and orange seller, Royal mistress and actress Nell Gwynne.

Oxford University is to establish Britain's first visiting chair of opera studies. Top names from the opera world, including Thomas Allen, Jonathan Miller and John Eliot Gardner, have been lined up as visiting professors over the next five years. Judith Weir will inaugurate the programme with a public lecture in October and a public concert in November. It will be known as the Hambro chair, in recognition of a 50,000 endowment which has enabled its establishment. The similar Cameron Mackintosh chair in contemporary theatre studies has been in existence for some years, and professors have included Steven Sondheim Alan Ayckbourn and Diana Rigg.

The new production of Sophocles' Antigone will now be at the Old Vic theatre, not the Comedy as originally announced. Declan Donnellan will direct his own new version of the play, in which the laws of the gods, are pitted against the laws of men, when Creon will not allow Antigone to bury her apparently traitorous brother. It will run from 15th October to 29th January, and is presented by Warehouse Productions, the West End producing arm of the Donmar Warehouse. This is expected to be followed at the Old Vic by a twelve week season of the multi Tony Award wining Broadway production of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman with Brian Dennehy.

Two of Britain's most historic film studios are on the verge of comebacks. Over 160 films were shot in the '20's and '30's in Gainsborough Studios, including those which launched Alfred Hitchcock's career. In a now forgotten part of Hoxton, backing on the Grand Union Canal, the studios lie derelict, having closed in 1949. The regeneration starts with a British Film Institute exhibition called Ultimate Hitchcock, marking the director's centenary, which is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until December. Developers are finalising a 30m scheme to refurbish the buildings, creating a new film studio, workshops, living accommodation and restaurants. Meanwhile the bid to rescue Ealing Studios from the bulldozers has received a boost from Canal Plus, the French television and film company. Ealing, home of the great post war comedies, closed for film production in 1955, when they were taken over by the BBC. The National Film and Television School acquired them four years ago, but when the NFTS's plan to refurbish the buildings and relocate there was refused funding, it looked as though the studios would be sold for development. Now the French company will help to finance the regeneration of the site, to create a commercial studio and a museum celebrating its history.

American comedian Jackie Mason is returning to London with a new show Jackie Mason - Close Up for a "prior to Broadway" season. He will appear at The Embassy Rooms in Tottenham Court Road for weekend performances until 10th July.

The D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which specialises in the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire, is facing another monetary crisis. D'Oyly Carte has had a very chequered financial history in recent years, and once again the Arts Council has refused a request for funding. Now its benefactor Michael Bishop, who contributed 1m in the last ten years, has decided that he can no longer continue to underwrite the company's debts without Arts Council support.

Inspirations: Peter Barnes claims that much of his new Wars of the Roses play Dreaming, which has just opened at the Queens Theatre, was written in the Leicester Square branch of McDonalds. At last the subtext of the enigmatic line Did you want fries with that? is explained.

Raymond Gubbay has won the battle for the Royal Albert Hall on Millennium night. He is to present The Millennium Proms on 30th and 31st December. The shows will include orchestral music, opera and dance, featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra, Murray McClauchlan, Helen Williams, John Graham-Hall, English National Ballet stars Tamara Rojo and Patrick Armand, and The Johann Strauss Dancers. The performances will conclude with Fantasia on British Sea Songs, Rule Britannia, Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory.

The Theatre Investment Fund has announced a new Acorns Awards Scheme, designed to help producers developing new work to stage workshops and showcase productions. Applications in writing must be received by 24th September, for projects going into production from the end of November onwards. For further information send an A5 stamped addressed envelope to: Theatre Investment Fund, Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 8AY.

The Rumour Machine says: that the opening booking period of The Lion King is almost sold out - four months before the first night; that the Andrew Lolyd Webber/Ben Elton football show, to be called The Beautiful Game, is about a teenage team in Ireland, and will focus on religious bigotry; and that discussions are taking place for a West End transfer of the Donmar Warehouse production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing in the new year. The Rumour Machine grinds on.