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The BBC's Rosie Millard
"Jerry Hall might triple The Graduate's ticket sales"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Stealing the limelight?

Throw a stone in London's West End and you'll hit a big name American star. But while the capital's theatres seem to be thriving, are regional companies being left in the wings?

This summer, the West End of London arguably has more top box office stars per square foot than anywhere outside Beverly Hills.

The capital's stages currently creak under the weight of Hollywood stars Donald Sutherland, Kathleen Turner and Jason Scott Lee.
The Graduate's Kathleen Turner and Matthew Rhys
"Here's to you, Mrs Robinson"

Brits who have made it big on the silver screen are also taking to the boards. Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Vanessa Redgrave are all hot tickets. Julia Ormond is set to join the rush.

The announcement that model-cum-celebrity ex-wife Jerry Hall is taking over from Kathleen Turner as Mrs Robinson in The Graduate has further added to the buzz.

Angry Mr Robinson

It may therefore strike some as odd that the head of the Arts Council of England says theatre is in crisis.

Gerry Robinson says West End star-turns from the likes of Kevin Spacey and Nicole Kidman, and the Oscar-winning ways of British names such as Sam Mendes, avert attention from funding shortages at acting's grassroots.
Jerry Hall
Hall star: Jerry takes over Graduate role

"We rightly glory in these successes, but there is a huge danger we will be blinded by them. Because, behind these occasional stabs of thrilling theatre, we are in trouble."

Martin Brown, from actors' union Equity, says the UK's regional theatres are desperate for the extra 25m of state support Mr Robinson prescribes.

"That's small beer in terms of government funding, but huge for theatres working on a shoestring."

Pocket money

Mr Brown says the biggest subsidy to theatre comes, in effect, out of performers' pockets. However, as many as half of British actors now say they cannot live on the low wages paid for regional parts.

"Even household names go to work in the regions for 265 per week. Not a day, a week. The people in the privileged position to be able to afford that are few and far between."
Prince Philip with Chicago showgirls
"Are you Americans?"

Graduate star Kathleen Turner accepted just 500 per week to grace the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1997. The accompanying blaze of publicity wasn't enough to save the venue from its financial woes.

If scores of regional theatres can't pay their way, are they worth supporting with public money?

"They're crucial to the West End's commercial success and the artistic wellbeing of the whole nation. They're a place to test new ideas and performers," says Mr Brown.

Casts a shadow

Matthew Rhys, the Welsh actor who stars opposite Turner on the London stage, says tight finances hinder this experimentation.

"Casts have to be small and rehearsal times kept short. This really restricts the sort of material regional theatres are able to tackle."
Nicole Kidman
Kidman was "theatrical Viagra" in London

The Arts Council particularly fears regional theatres are failing in the mission to widen their audience, further compounding box office headaches.

Rhys says the problem is a vicious circle: "They want and need to put on plays which attract people, but they just haven't got the money to stage those kinds of productions."

Packed house

The Hull Truck Theatre, one of the most respected regional companies, has battled hard to secure its finances and find new audiences.

In her 16 years with the company, Angela Marshall has witnessed the transformation.
Patrick Duffy, star of the London play Art
Wild West End: Patrick Duffy swaps Dallas for London

"When I first arrived, we were struggling with audiences of 40. Now we're packing them in. About 80% of our 1m-turnover comes from tickets."

With playwright John Godber at the helm, Hull Truck aimed to make "theatre for non-theatregoers".

"When John arrived he wanted to perform plays that suited the local area, so we did Up and Under. Who'd have thought people would come to see a play about rugby?"

Audition peace

As well as securing the loyalty of converted "non-theatregoers"; Ms Marshall says the company's reputation has actors falling over themselves to audition, low wages or not.

Presumably with the influx of Hollywood stars and celebs like Jerry Hall, British actors have little other option.
Ralph Fiennes
Shooting star: Fiennes returns to London stage

On the contrary, says Mr Brown. American stars help support the West End's 41,000 jobs for British actors, stage directors, sets designers and stagehands.

"If these stars get theatre into the national press, three cheers for that. If their runs are sold out, three cheers for that. If they get new people through the door..."

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See also:

13 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Jerry takes nude Graduate role
05 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Turner bares all in stage debut
29 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Turner nudity boosts ticket sales
28 Jun 00 | Wales
Rhys bows out of star role
13 Apr 00 | Entertainment
Fiennes treads the boards
24 Jan 00 | Entertainment
The Mendes touch
23 Mar 00 | Entertainment
Duffy joins Art cast
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