News Archive

Backstage Whispers overheard by Richard Andrews

Last updated : 28th July 2000

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has announced a "jam tomorrow" rise in arts funding, with an extra 100m a year from 2003/2004 - by which time many of the regional theatres and companies which are in crisis may have disappeared. The Arts Council of England will receive an additional 15m in 2001/2002, which has already been announced and allocated. This will rise to 60m in 2002/2003, much of which has been earmarked by the government for a new Creative Partnerships programme. This is designed to "promote co-productions, creating work aimed at new and culturally diverse audiences, and re-establishing dynamic, new work at the core of regional theatre" focussed on school children and arts groups in deprived areas. The Arts Council, while obviously welcoming the rise, remains concerned about the desperate situation of some regional companies in the short term.

Stones In His Pockets will transfer from the New Ambassadors Theatre to the Duke of York's Theatre on 21st August. Marie Jones award winning Irish comedy is the tale of what happens when a remote part of Ireland gets a taste of Hollywood, with the arrival of a film company to shoot a new blockbuster. It features Sean Campion and Conleth Hill, who between them play all 15 characters in the play. The production was originally seen at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast. Ian McElhinney directs, and the producers are E&B Productions and Pat Moylan.

Old Vic Productions was launched this week with the aim of securing 1m to finance projects for the Old Vic Theatre. Kevin Spacey, who says that the Old Vic is his favourite theatre and is investing 100,000 of his own money, will be involved as an advisor. It is effectively a relaunch of Criterion Productions, which was set up to finance projects when the Criterion Theatre reopened in 1993, and has so far produced, er, er, er. . .

Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery of Charles Dickens starring Simon Callow, which is currently touring, will open at the Comedy Theatre on 6th September. The play contrasts the public success and private tragedy of the writer, while recreating many of his most famous characters, as performed by Dickens himself on stage in both Britain and America. Simon Callow appeared as Dickens reading his short stories in a television series at Christmas three years ago. The director is Patrick Garland, and the producers are the Ambassador Theatre Group and Act Productions.

As previously reported, the Royal Court Theatre's autumn season starts with the world premiere of David Hare's My Zinc Bed with Steven Mackintosh, Julia Ormond and Tom Wilkinson. It continues with yet another Irish play, Gary Mitchell's The Force Of Change, which explores the issue of collusion between members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Loyalist para-military organisations, directed by Robert Delamere. This will be followed by I Just Stopped To See The Man by Stephen Jeffries, set in the American blues underworld, where an English rock musician seeks the truth behind the death of legendary singer Jesse Davidson, directed by Richard Wilson.

Comedy agency, promoter and television production company Avalon is moving towards play and musical theatre production with the West End in mind, following the recent season of Al Murray - The Pub Landlord. It plans to develop material from its stable of writers and comedians. The first step with client Richard Thomas is to present Combat Opera's Tourette Diva at the Battersea Arts Centre from 16th August to 2nd September.

Meanwhile twenty one years after its launch in a Soho strip club, The Comedy Store is making its debut on the Edinburgh Fringe, presenting four shows at the Assembly Rooms. Ian Stone, Simon Blight and Russell Peters appear solo on various dates, and there will be a typical Comedy Store show at midnight every night throughout the Festival.

The full details of participating shows in The Society Of London Theatre's Kids Week in the West End have been announced. It runs from 25th August, and is designed to introduce young people to the theatregoing experience. Children between 5 and 16 can go free (when accompanied by a paying adult) to over 25 West End shows, with up to two additional children at half price, and there are over 35 accompanying events. The complete listing is posted on the Kids Week web site, which can be found via the link from the Festivals section of TheatreNet.

On The Casting Couch: Previously mentioned productions which have firmed up their casting, but are still seeking a West End theatre this autumn are: Harold Pinter's The Caretaker directed by Patrick Marber featuring Michael Gambon, Rupert Graves and Douglas Hodge; and Hugh Whitemore's new play God Only Knows directed by Anthony Page with Derek Jacobi, Francesca Hunt, Margot Leicester, Richard O'Callaghan and David Yelland. At the National Theatre, Trevor Nunn's production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard features Roger Allam; Suzanne Bertish, Eve Best, Michael Bryant, Charlotte Emmerson, William Gaunt, Maxine Peake and Vanessa and Corin Redgrave; and Michael Frayn's Noises Off directed by Jeremy Sams includes Susie Blake and Patricia Hodge. Meanwhile way out west at the London Apollo at Christmas, Dick Whittington stars Jim Davidson, John Virgo, Victor Spinetti and Freddie Lees.

Riverside Studios has created a new Studio 3, with 156 seats on the ground floor, which replaces a previously adapted rehearsal room on the first floor. With twice the capacity of its predecessor, it is the first purpose built theatre space in the venue, as the others are converted former television studios. Studio 3 launches in August with events from the Brazil 500 festival, followed by Reza de Wet's South African tale Crossing; a British-Asian spoof of an epic film Bollywood 2000: Yet Another Love Story; Howard Barker's new play He Stumbled in which an anatomist begins to uncover a deadly secret when he is asked to embalm a dead monarch in an obscure kingdom; Russian-German company Do-Fabrik exploring the dark side of clowning; and Neil Monaghan's new play Eye Contact, set in a London table-dancing club. Autumn in Studio 2 includes performances by Japanese comedian Issey Ogata, the musical Dr Livingstone...I Presume? and the Cardoso Flea Circus, which claims to be a troupe of real live performing fleas.

Angela Lansbury has withdrawn from The Visit, one of the most anticipated new musicals of the coming Broadway season, owing to the ill health of her husband. The John Kander-Fred Ebb-Terrence McNally show, based on Friedrich Durrenmatt's play, was developed with Lansbury in mind. It is a dark story about the richest woman on Earth, who returns to the depressed town where she was scorned by a man, and offers the townspeople riches if they will destroy the man. A pre Broadway season in Boston at Christmas was cancelled earlier this month due to Lansbury's wish to make certain her husband had recovered from recent heart surgery. The producers intend to look for a replacement and continue on the current schedule for an opening at the Broadway Theatre in April.

The Stables at Wavendon celebrates the opening season of its new 400 seater auditorium on 8th October with September Song, a concert commemorating the centenary of Kurt Weill. Cleo Laine and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra perform a programme encompassing the Berlin and Broadway sides of Weill's work, including The Seven Deadly Sins. Further information about the new building can be found on The Stables web site via the link from the Regional Theatres section of TheatreNet.

The Rumour Machine says: that West End Touring Syndrome first diagnosed in La Cava has spread to Spend Spend Spend, the show it bumped out of the Piccadilly, which may now transfer to the Queens; and that the British Council, which is supposed to export British culture, is bowing to the government's "Culture Lite" diktat, and will no longer support classical music but "reflect the diversity of British music you find in a Tower Record Shop". The Rumour Machine grinds on.