News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 27th October 2000

Producer Duncan Weldon has confirmed earlier reports that Calista Flockhart will make her London debut in "a major American classic" at the Savoy Theatre during the Ally McBeal haitus next summer. If the Hollywood writers strike delays the start of production of the TV show's next season, the limited West End run would be extended. If successful the production will go to Broadway the following summer.

The Theatres Trust Guide To British Theatre 1750-1950 has just been published, providing a thorough survey of the UK's rich theatre heritage. It details 650 surviving buildings and 1300 others which have been lost or demolished. At the book's launch Trust chairman John Drummond stressed the need for continued investment in preserving our heritage including venues which are currently dark. Trust director Peter Longman cited the London Coliseum, the Lyceum and Edinburgh Festival Theatre as buildings which had at one time been deemed unviable for theatrical use, but which are now thriving.

On this theme, the future of the Winter Gardens complex in Blackpool is under threat, as its new owners Leisure Parcs is considering alternative uses for the site. Its conference facilities have been condemned as outdated, and Leisure Parcs are considering a new purpose built venue elsewhere. This would leave the Winter Gardens, which includes the Opera House, Empress Ballroom, Arena, Pavilion Theatre, Spanish Room, Baronial Hall and Olympia Exhibition Hall without its main income generator, which would probably render the entire complex uneconomic. This might result in the site being redeveloped as a shopping mall.

Alistair Beaton's new comedy Feelgood, about a group of spin doctors writing a conference speech for the Prime Minister, will premiere at Hampstead Theatre from 25th January to 10th March. The play is a satire on a party more concerned with image than with content - these writers, where do they get their ideas? It will feature Henry Goodman as Al… I'm sorry, a Downing Street spokesman, and Max Stafford Clark will direct.

Meanwhile, work started this week on a £15m replacement for the current Hampstead Theatre, a prefabricated structure erected in 1962 at a cost of £25,000. Despite the minimal backstage facilities, it has proved a great actor/audience space and much wonderful work has been done there. It's tempting to wonder if theatre as an institution might not have been better served, had some of the lottery money spent so far been put into a programme of building "original Hampsteads" across the country and properly funding work to go in them, rather than some of the mega projects we have ended up with. Nevertheless, the new Hampstead Theatre designed by Bennetts Associates will be a translucent structure housing an adaptable elliptical aditorium capable of accommodating between 140 and 325. It is scheduled for completion in late 2002, although £2.7m funding has still to be raised. A preview can be found on the Hampstead Theatre web site via the link from the London Venues section of TheatreNet.

Glynne Robbins adaptation of J R R Tolkien's The Hobbit, which is currently touring, is to play a five week Christmas season at the Queens Theatre from 13th December. Roy Marsden directs the story of Bilbo Baggins, who is reluctantly swept up into a dangerous adventure in a world populated by elves, trolls and dragons. The book was the forerunner to The Lord Of The Rings.

Opportunity Of The Week: The London Zoo is looking for Inn Keepers, Shepherds and Wise Men to take part in a Children's Zoo Nativity Trail. Before you join the rush, bear in mind this is a continuous presentation taking place entirely out of doors from 1st to 24th December. Perhaps a nice warm grotto might be preferable.

Yuri Grigorovich's production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, will receive its UK premiere performed by Chisnau National Ballet at the London Apollo Hammersmith next year. Grigorovich was Artistic Director of the Bolshoi Ballet for over thirty years before internal squabbles precipitated his departure in 1995. He restaged his version of the ballet in Chisinau two years ago.

The Empty Space...Peter Brook Award, recognising the work of small and underfunded theatre companies that make innovative use of space, will be presented at the Theatre Museum on 14th November. The award aims to recognise "soldiering in the trenches" survival by studio venues rather than specific "individual feats of valour". The theatres nominated in London are the Battersea Arts Centre, the Warehouse, Croydon, the Tricycle, Kilburn and the Southwark Playhouse. All nominees receive £300 and the winner will receive £2000.

The selection of the best plays from the Warehouse Theatre Company's International Playwriting Competition 2000 has now been made from a record number of over 500 entries. The four plays chosen form part of the International Playwriting Festival taking place at the Pleasance London from 17th to 19th November. The Festival will also feature four new plays from Cyprus and Italy and three plays selected from the Warehouse's Writers' Workshops. Further information can be found on the Warehouse Theatre web site via the link from the London Venues section of TheatreNet.

Elvis will be with us always. No sooner has Cooking With Elvis left the building, than Martha, Josie And The Chinese Elvis by Charlotte Jones is announced with an equally bizarre set of characters. The scene is a birthday party for Josie (who is retiring from the "personal services" business), whose guests are her daughter Brenda-Marie (who dreams hopelessly of being an Olympic ice skater), her Irish cleaner Martha (who thinks a trip to Graceland will right her many wrongs) and her last remaining client Lionel (who is desperate to dress for the occasion). Enter Timothy Wong, just starting out as an Elvis impersonator, who's got the frock but is not on top of all the songs yet. You can find out what happens at the Palace Watford from 2nd to 24th February or possibly in the West End later. It is a co-production with Lee Dean.

The Rumour Machine says: that Bernadette Peters will star in Gypsy in London next year directed by Sam Mendes; that the Alan Clark Diaries may be adapted for the stage; and that the Two Way Mirror theatre company is to tour a stage version of Reservoir Dogs. The Rumour Machine grinds on.