Preview of 1998 in the West End

Preview of 1998 in the West End LONDON TICKET -- January 1998

LONDON TICKET -- January 1998


HAPPY NEW YEAR: Ever heard of a 1930's Cole Porter musical called You Never Know? Neither had I, but it's just one of the musical revival treats promised us in London for the start of l998. Later in the New Year we are promised Oklahoma! (from the National, no less), The King & I from Broadway, Show Boat in the Hal Prince staging, Sweet Charity with its original star Gwen Verdon choreographing for Bonnie Langford and Doctor Dolittle, the old Rex Harrison movie now to be staged with Philip Schofield.

We are also due for The Three Musketeers, one of the winners in the Denmark Musical of the Year contest 18 months ago, and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down The Wind at the Aldwych in a radically revised production by Gale Edwards. All that plus the big Broadway imports due this summer: Rent and Ragtime.

That's about it for musicals, but in the straight theatre the Broadway influence is more dominant than in many years. Some of the Americans abroad will be Kevin Spacey in O'Neill's rarely-seen marathon The Iceman Cometh at the Almeida, trendiest of the fringe theatres; Edward Albee, who premieres his new Play About the Baby here in September; and Steve Martin, who brings his Picasso at the Lapin Agile over in March.

We'll also get a rare visit from Chicago's Steppenwolf in The Man Who Came To Dinner, a play much after my own heart, as I was born on its original London first night in 1941 and acquired from my father Robert (who was playing it) the Christian name of its central character, Sheridan Whiteside, based, of course, on the legendary American columnist and all-purpose literary gossip Alexander Woollcott. He graciously agreed from across the Atlantic to be my godfather, but, alas, I never met him. One night in 1943 he went into a Broadway grocery, sent me a large tin of biscuits, went on to do his weekly radio show and died on the air in mid-sentence. A broadcaster my-self, I can think of worse ways to go than my godfather's.

THE HOME TEAM: 1998 is not going to be only a year of nothing but Broadway imports; over on this side of the Atlantic we can offer a new Ayckbourn, The Things We Do for Love, about domestic and marital violence, and it was our own Vanessa Redgrave who lighted on a totally unproduced play of the young Tennessee Williams, Not About Nightingales, which turns up in March at the National in a production by Houston's Alley Moving Theatre company.

Two of our major film stars also return to the London stage: Liam Neeson in David Hare's The Judas Kiss, originally a film script about Oscar Wilde but now converted to the theatre for Richard Eyre to direct. Then there's Stephen Dillane in a new Uncle Vanya for director Katie Mitchell, while the ongoing triumph of Art (due for Broadway in the spring) has led to a commission from the RSC for Yasmina Reza's latest, The Unexpected Man.

Harold Pinter reappears as an actor in two of his own earliest plays, The Lover and The Collection, while the Irish invasion continues with new plays from Sebastian Barry and Conor McPherson.

A good year, too, for starry actresses: Emma Thompson comes to the Warehouse with Sam Mendes's As You Like It, and Diana Rigg is back at the Almeida with Phaedra.

-- By Sheridan Morley