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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 00:10 GMT 01:10 UK
Madonna gets standing ovation
Madonna and Tom Irwin
Madonna stars alongside Tom Irwin
Madonna received a standing ovation after facing theatre critics on the first night of the play Up For Grabs.

The production, which marks Madonna's West End debut, passed smoothly and was watched by husband Guy Ritchie and stars including Jonny Lee Miller, Stella McCartney and Sting.

The play's writer, David Williamson, said Madonna had given a wonderful performance and admitted it was her role which guaranteed a sell-out over the play's 10-week run.

He said: "Let's be realistic. When you've got Madonna in the cast, nobody's going to forget her. She's the star."

The play has previously been performed on a number of preview nights, but until now the press has not been allowed access.

Watchful eye

Audience members cheered as the curtain went up and Madonna took centre stage for the opening scene.

Madonna as Loren with co-star Tom Irwin
The press was kept out of the preview shows

Other celebrities at the production included designer Donatella Versace, television presenter Donna Air, director Sir Peter Hall, and actress Cherie Lunghi.

A stage-side security guard kept a watchful eye on proceedings throughout the play and as Madonna twice returned to the stage for the standing ovation.

The singer left the theatre with her husband in a limousine, driving less than100 yards to a hotel for the after show party.

Embarrassing problem

Reports from preview performances suggested Madonna made a nervous start, but grew more confident as the play went on.

On Wednesday night she won applause for adlibbing in her off-stage voice when buttons on her top came apart and presented her with an embarrassing problem.

Up for Grabs at London's Wyndhams Theatre is the first play Madonna has done since 1988 when she appeared in Dave Mamet's Speed the Plow in New York.

The 43-year-old stars as an art dealer in the David Williamson play.

Her character tries to manipulate her friends when a Jackson Pollock painting comes onto the market.

Technical hitches

Up for Grabs was a hit in Williamson's native Australia and its cast of seven is directed by Laurence Boswell, whose recent credits include A Day In The Life Of Joe Egg and Popcorn, by Ben Elton.

The production was hit by problems early on as Madonna pulled out of performing matinee shows because of recording commitments.

And the opening was put back because of technical hitches.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rosie Millard
"For the first half-hour it is impossible to rid yourself of the baggage that is Madonna"

Picture gallery
Madonna the actress
See also:

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