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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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July 22 2012

Angharad Rees obituary

Actor best known for her role as Demelza in the 1970s hit BBC TV drama Poldark

The actor Angharad Rees, who has died of pancreatic cancer aged 63, soared to fame in Poldark (1975-77), the BBC's dramatisation of Winston Graham's novels set in 18th-century Cornwall. Rees played the fiery servant Demelza, whose beautiful smile, wide-open eyes, flowing red locks and headstrong nature won over the brooding hero.

Robin Ellis starred as Ross Poldark, the British army officer returning home from the American war of independence to find his father dead, the family estate run down and their tin mines about to be sold. He seeks to reignite the flames with his fiancee, the aristocratic Elizabeth (Jill Townsend), but discovers she is set to marry his cousin. Poldark finds a soulmate in the miner's daughter Demelza after stopping a stallholder at Redruth fair from thrashing her for stealing. He offers her a job as his kitchen maid, and later marries her.

The costume drama, which ran for two series and attracted up to 15 million viewers in Britain and many more around the world, was particularly popular with women, who swooned over Ellis and admired the feistiness of Rees's character. The wild Cornish locations were also impressive at a time when the majority of costume dramas were almost entirely studio-bound.

Rees was born in London, the daughter of a distinguished Welsh psychiatrist, Linford Rees, and his wife, Catherine. When Angharad was a baby, her parents moved the family back to their homeland, to live in Cardiff.

In the mid-1960s she gained experience as an assistant stage manager and actor at the West Cliff theatre, in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. She made her screen debut in 1968, as the parlourmaid in a BBC television adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, and had one-off parts in TV dramas and comedies including The Avengers (1968) and Doctor in the House (1969).

Rees played Jack the Ripper's murderous daughter in the Hammer horror film Hands of the Ripper (1971) and appeared as Gossamer Beynon, alongside Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Peter O'Toole, in Under Milk Wood (1972). Although she had few further film parts, Rees seemed ever-present on television throughout the 1970s. Some of her best roles included Sarah Churchill, the daughter of the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill (played by Burton) in The Gathering Storm (1974), and Celia in a 1978 production of As You Like It, opposite Helen Mirren. She also guest-starred in The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (1977), an accolade in itself.

As Lady Evelyn Herbert, she teamed up with Ellis again in the television film The Curse of King Tut's Tomb (1980). Later, she starred as the remarried former wife of Paul Nicholas's vet in the sitcom Close to Home (1989-90) and joined the second series of Trainer (1992) as Caroline Farrell, coping with her drinking and gambling husband Freddie (Jeremy Sinden).

She appeared in the West End in It's a Two Feet Six Inches Above the Ground World (Wyndham's theatre, 1970) and The Millionairess (Theatre Royal, Haymarket, 1978-79). In 1973, she married the actor Christopher Cazenove, with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in 1994. Their eldest child, Linford, died in a car accident in 1999.

Rees subsequently gave up acting in order to concentrate on developing her own jewellery design business, including a shop in Knightsbridge. She described this new career as therapeutic, and some of her creations were featured in the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

Rees had a relationship with the actor Alan Bates, who had suffered the loss of his own son years earlier. However, she turned down his proposals of marriage and the couple eventually parted in 2002. "We were very close, but it was difficult because I had not yet given way to my grief over the loss of my son," she said in an interview in 2007.

Continuing to support the arts, Rees was made an honorary fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and was appointed CBE in 2004. The following year, she married David McAlpine. He survives her along with her younger son, Rhys.

• Angharad Mary Rees, actor and jewellery designer, born 16 July 1949; died 21 July 2012


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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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June 17 2010

Underworld dandy: Sebastian Horsley dies, aged 47, of suspected overdose | Ben Myers

He was an artist, writer, Soho peacock and much more – yet perhaps Horsley's defining obsession and achievement was himself

It's hard to know exactly how to describe Sebastian Horsley, who has been found dead today at the age of 47 of a suspected overdose.

Artist? Yes. He remains most notorious for having himself crucified in the name of art in the Philippines in 2000. Writer? Undoubtedly. His autobiography Dandy in the Underworld – named after an album by his hero Marc Bolan's T Rex – is as memorable and witty a confessional since Quentin Crisp (another Horsley reference point) last put barbed pen to paper.

Journalist? For a while. He enjoyed a six-year run writing a column for The Erotic Review, which, when it transferred to the Observer, lasted a mere four months due to readers' complaints about his endless descriptions of anal sex. Critic? Yes, he was that too. He criticised everything, sometimes professionally, as in his appearances on the likes of The Culture Show.

He was also a dramatist, it could be said. After all, from birth to death his life was a living drama full of heroic triumphs, tragic downfalls and a deluge of one-liners, and which only last week made the leap from street to stage in a West End adaptation of his life story. A story so good, in fact, that it had also been optioned for development by Stephen Fry's film company.

Horsley was many other things besides: a wit, a bisexual bedroom adventurer, a drug addict and a hustler in all senses of the word. He claimed to have made £1m on the stock markets in the 1980s, then spent most of it on crack and heroin and prostitutes, a profession that he himself dabbled in. Perhaps most of all, though, he was a peacock: a strutting, smirking Soho peacock, the likes of whom Britain seems to produce only every generation or two to enliven the drab lives of us everyday folk. The type of person that makes people stop and stare in the street.

Few others but Horsley could turn such a frustrating experience as being denied entry to the US in 2008 into something of an event. Moral turpitude was the reason given – "… travellers who have been convicted of a crime which includes controlled-substance violations or admit to previously having a drug addiction" – and you sensed that he was tickled pink by such a Victorian-sounding accusation. In echoes of Oscar Wilde's US entry, upon his return Horsley quipped that he had prepared for entry into America by removing his nail polish. He must also surely have taken pride in the fact that he was deemed more of a threat to America than Wilde had been.

Reading Dandy in the Underworld, you get the sense that here was a man whose major obsession and achievement was himself, and whose brilliance would not be fully appreciated in his lifetime. With his passing, a new English legend has been born.


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