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July 27 2012

Seven days on stage: Will Olympic tourists sprint over to the West End?

As the curtain rises on the Olympics, London's Theatreland is on tenterhooks about ticket sales, while a new musical prepares to take wing at Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic stadium

Late sprint?

With the Olympics getting into full swing this weekend, London's West End – and its theatres in particular – are on tenterhooks, waiting to discover whether any of the incoming tourists will make the trip across the capital to see a show. Earlier in the year, Andrew Lloyd Webber warned that the summer would be a "bloodbath" for Theatreland, with theatres left empty and ticket sales through the floor. While that doesn't seem likely to happen – according to a report we on the Stage have produced this week – there's still a big question mark over whether the influx of overseas visitors will make up for a "noticeable" dip in advanced sales.

Birdsong in Beijing

In Beijing – the last Olympic host city – an example emerged this week of the potential benefits that the Games can bring to the performing arts. China's National Stadium, better known as the Bird's Nest Olympic venue, is to host its first ever stage musical. Fascination, as it's called, will open this September and will run for three years, playing to a potential capacity of 10,000 people per show.

Less than super

You could be forgiven for not having noticed, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest TV talent show – Superstar – drew to a close this week. The final of the ITV show – held slightly strangely on Wednesday night – played to 3.3 million viewers, less than half the number that similar BBC contests have attracted. As well as not proving a massive hit with viewers, the show has also sparked a few strong opinions within the industry, with Gavin and Stacey star Joanna Page describing the contest as "insulting".

Tattoo close to the bone

Controversy in Germany, meanwhile, where the Bayreuth festival opened this week, but with one notable absentee. Yevgeny Nikitin, the bass-baritone who had been due to sing the title role in a new production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, dropped out of the event after a row centring on a Nazi tattoo emblazoned on his chest. It proved a particularly sensitive subject given the festival's (and Wagner's) historic links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

Stirling work

In Northern Ireland, the new Belfast Lyric Theatre is celebrating its nomination for the prestigious Stirling prize for architecture. The venue is up against – among others – the London Olympic Stadium for the prize, which will be announced in October. Encouragingly, William Hill has the Lyric at 4 to 1 to win, compared to 5 to 1 for the Olympic stadium.

Warehouse to courthouse

London's Donmar Warehouse theatre finds itself facing a lawsuit from David Birrell, an actor who was blinded in one of his eyes after a prop gun misfired during a show. The accident happened during the 2010 production of The Passion. He is seeking £250,000 in damages.

And finally ...

Ghost the musical, which had already announced its closure in the West End this October, will now also bid farewell to Broadway. The show will shutter in New York in August, after a run of 136 performances. Still, it's not quite the end of the road: a Dutch version opens in August, while there are also plans for a US tour and other international versions.

Follow Friday – my theatrical Twitter tips

@lyricbelfast – the official Twitter feed for Northern Ireland's only full-time producing theatre, the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Some interesting extra content – pics, videos and the like – available via Twitter, plus the obligatory endless retweets of people saying nice things about the theatre.

@thebenforster – Ben Forster is the winner of ITV's search for a Jesus to appear in Andrew Lloyd Webber's revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Lots of thanking of his supporters going on at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if he gives an insight into rehearsals for the arena tour.

@jopage – Joanna Page, best known for her role in Gavin and Stacey, but also an established stage actress. Not a huge fan of TV talent shows, it seems, but, judging from her Twitter feed, does seem to like dogs a lot.

Alistair Smith is deputy editor of The Stage. You can follow me @smithalistair


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March 31 2012

Andrew Lloyd Webber calls for help to save crumbling theatres

Theatres Protection Fund to receive £125,000 from Andrew Lloyd Webber, with call for other successful writers and producers to give something back

Andrew Lloyd Webber is calling on successful producers and writers to give something back by offering financial help to ailing theatres across the country.

Lloyd Webber will announce on Monday that he will give £125,000 over the next five years to the Theatres Trust. The donation, through his foundation, will kickstart the Theatres Protection Fund, giving urgent cash for anything from repairing a leaking roof to paying for a fundraising campaign. He has also given £1m to the Architectural Heritage Fund for grade I and II listed buildings, which include some theatres.

"I'm a great lover of architecture and obviously theatres in particular," he said. "I hope my foundation's donation will help look after some of the less well-known prestigious theatres around the country and also maybe encourage other creators, writers and producers who have been lucky in the theatre, to join me in donating …

"I'm thinking of people who have made a decent living that can actually give something back. These buildings are crumbling. We don't want them ending up as lapdancing clubs or being pulled down."

Madeleine Lloyd Webber, the composer's wife and a foundation trustee, said: "Andrew has created a huge amount of millionaires in this business. There's an awful lot of people out there that are very well off thanks to live theatre."

Last week Arts Council England announced that 26 organisations are to share £114m from its new capital funding programme. With the Southbank Centre to receive £20m, the National Theatre £17.5m and the Royal Opera House £10m, there was, however, concern that the funds would support some of the most heavily subsidised arts, with London venues receiving half of the total.

Fifty-eight theatre buildings – jewels of the nation's theatrical heritage – remain "at risk". Many others have already gone, including the Borough Theatre, Wallsend, which was demolished last year. The actress Penelope Keith, a trustee of the Theatres Trust, applauded the donation: "We will now be able to offer a lifeline to theatres," she said. "There's so many around the land that were wonderful buildings that need restoring. Quite often they're in good locations and there are people waiting to pounce, knock them down and turn them into shops or whatever."

She singled out the Derby Hippodrome, a 1914 variety theatre with rich baroque plasterwork. It fell victim to vandalism, including arson, and in its state of disrepair has an uncertain future. She said: "Rather mysteriously a ball and chain happened to swing and knock into the theatre. There's no [roof] over it. It's a shell."

Acknowledging the vast capital funding involved in such causes, sometimes running into millions, she said: "Quite often they need small funds to get started. Thanks to the foundation a lot of these things we hope will now get off the ground. Theatres are so much part of a community."

Rob Dickins, chairman of the Theatres Trust, said: "Theatres have been torn down for supermarkets. These are not just 'buildings'. They have the ghosts of creativity and performance and are special for communities."


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October 31 2011

Heritage prize for the north's only finalist in Lloyd Webber's glitzy new heritage awards

Unpaid workers who have rescued a Leeds church for community use - shifting three full skips of mummified pigeons and their droppings in the process - star in London bash

It's six weeks since the Northerner lamented the lack of finalists from our three regions in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'English Heritage Angel' awards which celebrate local people's work in protecting historic, interesting or beautiful buildings or landscape.

The fanfare is just that; it doesn't come with funding or the chance to perform in one of the Lord's stage productions, like Connie Fisher who triumphed in How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?

But it draws attention to the project as well as the work of those responsible for the transformation, and that encourages others with money or help in kind to pitch in. And the good news is that our solitary representative among the 16 finalists has...WON!

Yay! Well done the 120 volunteers who are returning the abandoned church of St Margaret of Antioch in Leeds to communal and imaginative use. We ran their prospectus back in September and you can read it here. Better still, get down there and see why they won earlier funding of £700,000 from English Heritage. Maybe you will be volunteer number 121.

The context of these awards is an alarming total of 5,828 buildings on English Heritage's At Risk Register. They include such wonders as Temple Mill in Leeds, which the Northerner also highlighted recently. Places such these simply cannot be lost.

English Heritage goes on to warn that:


Nationally, 3% of grade I and II* listed buildings are at risk

284 listed places of worship are among them

16.9% of England's 19,748 scheduled monuments are also at risk

The number of registered parks and gardens at risk increased from 99 (6.2%) in 2010 to 104 (6.4%) this year

Four of the six registered battlefields at risk are in Yorkshire and the Humber

Of the 7,481 conservation areas that have been surveyed, 516 (6.6%) are at risk.

St Margaret's team got their gong for the best restoration of a place of worship at a ceremony in London this morning, Monday 31 October, featuring the Lord and assorted celebs - Clare Balding, Graham Norton, Michael Winner and Danielle Hope. The other five winners are::
 

The Smythe Barn at Westenhanger, Hythe, Kent for the best craftsmanship on a heritage rescue
 
Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol, and St Stephen's, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, London, jointly for the best rescue of any other entry from the Heritage at Risk register.

Pleasley Colliery, Mansfield, Derbyshire (nearly northern...) for the best rescue of an industrial building or site
 
Tyntesfield Orangery in Somerset for the favourite award voted for by English Heritage members and readers of the Daily Telegraph, the awards' media partner.

Lloyd Webber signalled his future support at the award ceremony, saying:

All 16 shortlisted groups were exceptional and the judges had a hard time deciding between them. But in the end the winners stood out for their passion, perseverance and imagination, for the scale of the challenges they had taken on and for the legacy they leave behind – a secure future for beautiful historic buildings which without them could so easily have simply disappeared. I look forward to many others joining their ranks in the years to come.


 
Another of the judges, the classicist and TV presenter Bettany Hughes says:

The real joy of these awards is that we are recognising the value of the human spirit; our Angels are all men and women who have battled against the odds and who with flair, tenacity, sympathy, and sometimes wild inspiration have never taken 'no' for an answer and have instead laboured to make the world around them richer and better. If I wore hats, I would be in a perpetual state of taking my hat off to them all. We owe them much.

You can watch highlights from the awards ceremony on BBC 2's Culture Show at 6pm this coming Saturday 5 November.
 


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June 07 2011

This week's arts diary

Lloyd Webber relaunches Love Never Dies, plus Donald Trump's golf course, Dave Stewart sells Hirst to save art, and Wilton's gets the thumbs down

Love Never Dies not dead yet

Andrew Lloyd Webber is positively beaming at the new version of his not-entirely-acclaimed Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies. It's "quite extraordinary", he told the Diary. The downside (unless you live there) is that it's in Melbourne. But Lloyd Webber, who was in the city for the opening last week, is optimistic that this version will eventually make it to London's West End, probably after opening in Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, and then Broadway.

If you recall, Love Never Dies opened to grim reviews in March 2010 (it was dubbed Paint Never Dries by some), but then was rejigged by the producer Bill Kenwright. It's still not as good as it should be in Lloyd Webber's eyes, however.

The Melbourne show started almost from scratch. "It's a new production in every single way, wonderfully designed and wonderfully directed," says Lloyd Webber. "We didn't quite get it right in London. To let somebody else have a go is sometimes a very good idea. Forgetting that I have anything to do with it, I'd go so far as to say that, as a piece of musical theatre, it's as good as I've seen – ever."

Lloyd Webber says he wants to "let it settle" in Australia, since much of next year will be spent touring Jesus Christ Superstar. But the end plan does seem to be a move to London, where it would replace the Love Never Dies currently running at the Adelphi. "I'm confident it will be the production that, eventually, everyone remembers," he says.

Donald Trump's golf-course

A documentary chronicling the almost unbelievable ease with which Donald Trump was allowed to build a £1bn golf course for the mega-rich on environmentally protected dunes north of Aberdeen will get its UK premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest on Friday. You've Been Trumped won plaudits at Toronto film festival, and Anthony Baxter's film, which the Diary has seen, is certainly compelling stuff.

Trump (right) comes across as a buffoon and bully, while Alex Salmond's Scottish government seems to roll over and say yes please, no problem. Grampian police, which put Baxter in a cell for four hours and held on to his camera for six days, also come across badly. So what will the reaction in Scotland be?

Baxter tells me that arts investors Creative Scotland refused his initial application for money – he wanted £10,000 – on "lack of audience interest" grounds. The Edinburgh film festival declined to show it and "told me not to ask for a reason". So in Scotland it will show instead at Aberdeen's Belmont Picturehouse on 17 June.

Dave Stewart sells Hirst to save art

The Guardian reported at the weekend that musician Dave Stewart was selling seven works from his contemporary art collection, including a Damien Hirst spot painting that is presumably close to his heart – in that it is dedicated to Stewart himself. The one question that went unanswered was why he's selling. Stewart now tells the Diary: "I'm selling because I'm investing in something revolutionary that will help artists in the future." We can't wait to hear more.

Thumbs down for Wilton's

It was a genuine shame that Wilton's Music Hall in east London failed in its bid to get money from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Here is an amazing building, the world's oldest working music hall, playing host to some wonderful work including a terrific all-male Iolanthe in April. Wilton's wanted £2.25m of lottery money to put towards the £3.8m it needs for renovating and conservation. The refusal must be a blow, but director Frances Mayhew remains ever optimistic. "If we do nothing, by autumn this year we would be closed down," she said. "We won't let this happen." Anyone wishing to donate should go to wiltons.org.uk.


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March 17 2010

Picasso sets record pre-sale estimate

Theatre composer to sell Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto, which is predicted to fetch between £30m-£40m at auction

Andrew Lloyd Webber's charitable foundation is to make a second attempt to sell one of its most valuable possessions: a Picasso blue period portrait which Christie's today said would have the largest pre-sale estimate of any work ever auctioned in Europe.

The work, Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto and the party-loving sitter's languid expression may be explained by the painting's other title, The Absinthe Drinker. It has been estimated at between £30m and £40m and all proceeds will benefit Lloyd Webber's charitable foundation.

An attempt by Lloyd Webber to sell it in 2006 was aborted after lawyers for a German academic, Julius Schoeps, claimed the painting had been sold under duress to the Nazis in the 1930s. The claim that Schoeps, an heir of Paul Mendelssohn Bartholdy, was the rightful owner was dismissed by a court in New York two years ago. In January it was revealed that a confidential new agreement had been reached between the heirs and Lloyd Webber's foundation, in which the former relinquished all their claims.

The settlement means that an extremely rich person or institution now has the chance to buy an enormously important masterpiece. Christie's president Jussi Pylkkänen called it "one of the most important works of art to be offered at auction in decades".

Lloyd Webber bought it in 1995 for £18m and his foundation has been encouraged to sell by recent high amounts raised at auction, not least the record £65m paid for a Giacometti sculpture in February.


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February 19 2010

Lloyd Webber may buy Abbey Road

Composer says it is 'vital' to save recording venue made famous by the Beatles amid concern EMI may sell them

Andrew Lloyd Webber says he is "very interested" in buying Abbey Road studios, saying it is "vital for the future of the music industry in the UK" to save the north London venue where he and the Beatles laid down much of their work.

A spokesman for the composer and impressario said he first recorded there in 1967 with Tim Rice. "Abbey Road has such great facilities, with three major recording studios, and Andrew has probably brought more musicians to record there than anyone else, because it has the capacity to record large orchestral productions."

Lloyd Webber threw his hat into the ring to save the studios, which gave their name to a Beatles album, as concern grew over cash-strapped EMI's plan to sell them.

Sir Paul McCartney has raised hopes that someone will buy them (although hasn't promised to try himself) and the National Trust, already the owner of the childhood homes of McCartney and John Lennon, has expressed cautious interest after DJ Chris Evans suggested it should step in.

The government has promised to fast-track a long-standing recommendation from English Heritage that the 19th century building should be officially listed.


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