Dench and Anderson Featured in New British TV Series “Theatrebiz”; U.S. Broadcast to Follow

By James Inverne
September 13, 2004

A three-part documentary series about the theatre business has begun airing on British television.

“Theatrebiz” plays on digital channel BBC4 on Sunday nights at 9 PM and again at 11:50 PM, Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays at 1:55 AM, Saturdays at 11:55 PM and Sundays at 2:45 AM (episodes two and three will be first screened on Sept. 19 and 26). A U.S. run on the Trio channel will follow at the end of 2004, and a British terrestrial showing on BBC2 is thought likely by series co-producer Gina Newson.

Episode one principally follows the fortunes of London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket and its impresarios over the course of a year. During that time, the venue presented shows including Ralph Fiennes in Ibsen’s Brand, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in David Hare’s Breath of Life and Rupert Graves in Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance. Haymarket producer Arnold Crook calculates for the cameras that a backer who invested in all Haymarket shows during that year would have earned 30 percent over their stake. “Better than a bank,” he grins.

Crook and his partner are less successful in New York, however, where the cameras follow them to the premiere of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The pair hoped to bring the show to London, along with its star Whoopi Goldberg, but a bad New York Times review appears to have halted that idea. London producer Sonia Friedman (who isn’t connected with that play) declares the exclusive power of that one newspaper as “outrageous.”

Other high-profile theatre folk appearing in the series include Dench, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Holden, Adrian Lester, Prunella Scales, Graves and critics Michael Billington and Matt Wolf. The second episode will shift the action to the Edinburgh Festival; the third follows two drama students as they study, graduate and then enter the professional arena. Newson co-produces and directs alongside husband Jeremy Newson.