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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Actors' union attacks US imports
Publicity still from A Streetcar Named Desire
Glenn Close's reputation will help sell tickets
The National Theatre is under attack from actors' union Equity for employing too many non-British stars in productions.

A raft of Hollywood actors have appeared in West End productions over the past five years, with good reviews and healthy ticket sales resulting.

But Equity is angry at the National - which gets public subsidies - employing American and Australian leads in its forthcoming production of A Streetcar Named Desire.


This is the straw that has broken the camel's back

Christine Payne
Equity
Glenn Close - star of Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons - plays fading Southern belle Blanche Dubois in the Tennessee Williams' play at the Lyttelton Theatre.

Equity's assistant general secretary Christine Payne told BBC News Online the National, based on London's South Bank, had to act as a standard-bearer for British talent.

"What brought this to a head is that we have production at the National where three of the four leads are foreign artists," she said.

"It is a showcase for British talent and this is the straw that has broken the camel's back."

'Correct procedures'

But the National Theatre insisted it had broken no rules and was still employing a wealth of British talent.

"We don't accept any criticism. We will happily discuss any issue with them, and as they acknowledged, we have followed the correct procedures," spokeswoman Lucinda Morrison said.

"The issue is the flipside. The answer is not to make it harder for foreigh actors to work here, but to make it easier for British actors to work in America.

"We employ a vast number of British actors. It is a matter of the best possible actors in the best possible productions."

There is an exchange programme which allows less well-known actors from the US and UK cross the Atlantic, but the balance has swung in favour of visiting Americans.

Permit row

Critics have said the import of Hollywood stars to the West End is a marketing gimmick to sell tickets.

But Ms Payne said she was concerned the National was behaving like a commercial theatre and had not considered other casting options before choosing Close.

While admitting that Close, as a star of "international status", was entitled to a work permit, Ms Payne said this was not the case with Australian actress Essie Davis, whose application was opposed.

"She isn't of international status and she is Australian, so the exchange arrangement didn't apply."

A meeting is being arranged with management at the National Theatre over the wider issue of casting non-British actors.

See also:

08 Aug 02 | Entertainment
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