LONDON TICKET -- April 1997
While most London fringe theatres are fighting for their financial lives, the Almeida in Islington goes from strength to strength; as in some infinitely trendy wine bar, their audiences seem to be as interested in each other as what's onstage, but the directors Ian McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent have wisely allied themselves to the movies that are still their clients' entertainment of choice. So far, we've had Liam Neeson and Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes up there on £200 a week, and in April we get Kevin Spacey in the O'Neill marathon, Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Meanwhile, in the Barbican Pit, the RSC gives us The Unexpected Man by Yasmina Reza, whose Art (in its second year at Wyndham's and now on Broadway) has been the greatest pan-European hit of the last few seasons, while from New Haven to the Bush comes David Rabe's A Question of Mercy. But the two great West End openings of the month are undoubtedly Show Boat, in a triumphant new production from Hal Prince at the Prince Edward, and at the Haymarket, Edna The Spectaclenot just another monologue from the great Dame but instead a fully-fledged drama detailing her amazing childhood, the meeting with Norm and all the other highlights of the Gladdie Granny.
At the recent Olivier Awards (winners included Ute Lemper for Chicago, Richard Eyre and Ian Holm for King Lear and for best musical, Disney's Beauty and the Beast), Britain's arts minister gave a special award to the Canadian father-and-son team of Ed and David Mirvish, in recognition of all the work and millions of dollars they had put into the restoration of the Old Vic over the last 15 years.
But with the award came a special plea: Now that the Vic is once again dark and on the market, the Mirvishes were urged only to sell to someone who would "safeguard the theatrical future of one of London's most historic theatres." Just one little snag there so far: Nobody has yet put in a bid for the theatre, and however good the Arts Council intentions, if no buyer comes forward within, say, the next six months, then the case for a cinema or something still worse will start to gain strength.
Meanwhile, Sir Peter Hall, who ran the Vic so triumphantly throughout last year, has had to move his company to the rather less historic and more cavernous Piccadilly Theatre in the West End. There he now plans to revive his Waiting for Godot (though no longer with Alan Howard or Ben Kingsley) before moving on to Molière's The Misanthrope (with Elaine Paige). And later in the year we'll get Judi Dench in Filumena, and the great television comic Eric Sykes as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. DO NOT ARISE, SIR SEAN
A splendid backstage row has broken out over the actor Sean Connery, due to be knighted in the New Year Honours until his name was mysteriously struck off the lists at the very last minute. One school of thought holds that it was because of his declared Scots nationalism, since he has long campaigned for his native land to withdraw from England's clutches. Others maintain that it was because he told a magazine journalist some years ago that he could imagine certain instances on which it might be "understandable" to slap one's wife. He maintains he was misquoted, but either way one hardly imagines it will unduly disturb old 007, especially as he now regularly features on listings of the 20 wealthiest actors in the world and has recently conquered Broadway as one of the producers of the above mentioned hit, Art.
-- By Sheridan Morley