LONDON STAGES by Sheridan Morley

LONDON STAGES by Sheridan Morley STARLIT NIGHTS -- The news for the new season is of some very starry actresses in very dramatic roles. At a time when actresses of a certain age are rightly pointing out that the roles available to them are nowhere near as tempting as those on offer to the leading men of their generation, it does seem that the sexual imbalance is starting to shift in their favor. Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Diana Rigg and Frances de la Tour are all imminent if not actually arrived, and there is still the promise at least of Jessica Lange (in Long Day's Journey Into Night) for the Peter Hall company next year. So what are they all doing?

STARLIT NIGHTS -- The news for the new season is of some very starry actresses in very dramatic roles. At a time when actresses of a certain age are rightly pointing out that the roles available to them are nowhere near as tempting as those on offer to the leading men of their generation, it does seem that the sexual imbalance is starting to shift in their favor. Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Diana Rigg and Frances de la Tour are all imminent if not actually arrived, and there is still the promise at least of Jessica Lange (in Long Day's Journey Into Night) for the Peter Hall company next year. So what are they all doing?

Helen Mirren turns up at the National as Cleopatra to the Antony of Alan Rickman, standing in for an injured Alan Bates in the debut Shakespeare staging of Sean Mathias, familiar to New York audiences for Indiscretions. Judi Dench joins the Peter Hall company at the Piccadilly for a revival of de Filippo's Neapolitan classic Filumena, and then takes Amy's View, her most recent National hit, to Broadway in time for the 1999 Tonys.

Amy's author, the dramatist David Hare, is also on a roll: He takes to the stage (for the first time since, as a schoolboy, he co-starred with his fellow playwright Christopher Hampton in A Man for All Seasons) for a solo show about his travels through Israel, Via Dolorosa. Hare is also responsible for the adaptation of Schnitzler's Vienna 1900's classic, La Ronde, which -- as The Blue Room -- now gives Nicole Kidman her first London stage role.

As for Diana Rigg, she leads the Almeida company into the West End with a Racine double, Phedre and Britannicus, while Frances de la Tour can be found at the Almeida's home base in the world premiere of Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby, a hauntingly oblique drama also starring Alan Howard that takes us back over 30 years to the "missing" baby fought over by George and Martha in his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Other autumnal treats include a rare Peter Hall revival of Amadeus with David Suchet, Broadway bound for '99, which is also where the triumphant new Trevor Nunn/National Oklahoma! will go after a January-June season at the Lyceum before The Lion King takes up residence there. Elsewhere on the musical front, West Side Story is back for a 40th anniversary revival, and the Christmas treat at the Donmar is to be Sondheim's Into the Woods with Sophie Thompson, sister of Emma, the only announced casting as yet. *

BREAK A LEG A new survey of 260 performers in 20 West End musicals past and present reveals that 46 percent of all performers have been in some way injured onstage. Not very surprisingly, since it is entirely performed on roller skates, Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express tops the accident list with an average of almost three injuries per dancer, while An Inspector Calls, comparatively sedentary, reports after five years no actor injuries of any kind.

Cats has now reduced its injuries by more than half thanks to a specially structured safety program, but the hit list of the recent past includes Dave Willetts (taken to hospital after The Phantom of the Opera scenery fell on him), Michael Crawford (had to leave the epic spectacle EFX in Las Vegas because of an earlier hip injury), David Beale (six stitches after an executioner's ax accidentally fell on him in A Man for All Seasons) and, perhaps most famously, Sir Ian Holm, who still bears a dueling scar from an unlucky encounter with Sir Laurence Olivier at Stratford back in 1959. Nothing so fatal, happily, as the unfortunate Temple Crozier who got stabbed in the back in 1896 when a prop dagger got mysteriously replaced by a real one during a run of Hamlet.

-- by Sheridan Morley