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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 15:52 GMT
Madonna to star in West End
Madonna and Guy Ritchie
Madonna is filming with her husband Guy
Pop star Madonna is to make her West End debut.

The star will play an ambitious art dealer in the comedy Up for Grabs at London's Wyndham's Theatre.

It will be her first stage role in 13 years and marks a shift in direction for the performer.

Her publicist told an American magazine that Madonna wanted a fresh challenge and the chance to remain at home in London.

Madonna in The Next Best Thing
Next best thing? Madonna's film career is mixed
A spokeswoman for the production said: "It's true. I can confirm that Madonna will be appearing in Up for Grabs from May."

On Friday the Wyndham's Theatre said it had already sold a "frightening" number of tickets since Madonna's announcement.

The singer has spent much of the last few months in Malta with husband Guy Ritchie, who is directing her in his latest film, Love, Sex, Drugs and Money.

Her last stage performance was in 1988 with Broadway veterans Ron Silver and Joe Mantegna in American playwright David Mamet's Speed the Plow.

She also acted with then husband Sean Penn in 1986 off-Broadway play Goose and Tomtom, and before finding fame, wrote her own part in a 1980 filmed stage play called In Artificial Light.

Madonna's acting career has been mixed and many in the entertainment industry will see the role as a gamble, but Matt Wolf, theatre critic of Variety magazine, believes that London might be the best place for such a step.

"The thing about acting on the West End stage for an American is that it's a no-lose proposition," Mr Wolf told the BBC. "If you do terribly then everyone back home says, 'Well that's London - they're mean'.

"But if you do well, like Kathleen Turner, Jessica Lang or Macaulay Culkin, you can go home clutching a fistful of rave reviews."

After good reviews for the film Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, Madonna flopped in 1986's Shanghai Surprise and Who's That Girl in 1987.

Satire

A more recent musical performance as Eva Peron in Evita earned her better reviews but her role in The Next Best Thing, was widely criticised.

Up For Grabs, written by Australian David Williamson, is a satire on the art world and will open at Wyndham's Theatre on 23 May.

It broke box office records when it opened in Sydney in February 2001.

The play, which has a cast of seven, will be directed by Laurence Boswell, whose recent credits include A Day In The Life Of Joe Egg and Popcorn, by Ben Elton.

Up For Grabs centres on an art dealer's manipulation of friends and colleagues when a Jackson Pollock painting slips quietly onto the market.

Williamson is Australia's leading playwright, who wrote the screenplays for Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously.

Madonna will appear in previews from 9 May before it opens officially.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Sillito
It doesn't matter what the critics say, it will be a sell out"

Picture gallery
Madonna the actress
See also:

28 Feb 02 | Music
Madonna, queen of reinvention
11 Feb 02 | TV and Radio
Watchdog attacks Madonna outburst
08 Feb 02 | Music
Madonna to sing Bond song
30 Jan 02 | Showbiz
Madonna toasts star photographer
14 Dec 01 | Showbiz
Madonna attacks UK workmen
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