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First Published 23 April 2008, Last Updated 24 February 2009

Hollywood comes to Theatreland

When Hollywood star Nicole Kidman stripped naked on the stage of the Donmar Warehouse in 1998 in The Blue Room, she caused a sensation and sparked off a new trend in Theatreland. Not a trend for stripping naked, but a trend for major film stars to appear on a London stage. Since then, many famous American actors have been seen treading the boards of a West End theatre as a rite of passage, including Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof at the Donmar in 2002), David Schwimmer (Some Girls, Gielgud, 2005), Madonna (Up For Grabs, Wyndham’s, 2002), Holly Hunter (By The Bog Of Cats, Wyndham’s, 2004), Christian Slater (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Gielgud 2004 & Garrick 2006, Swimming With Sharks, Vaudeville, 2007 ), Rob Lowe (A Few Good Men, Haymarket 2005), Matthew Perry (Sexual Perversity In Chicago, Comedy, 2003), Aaron Eckhart and Julia Stiles (Oleanna, Garrick, 2004), Luke Perry (When Harry Met Sally, Haymarket, 2004) and in February 2008, Jeff Goldblum (Speed-the-Plow, Old Vic). That’s not to mention our own home-grown Hollywood stars, among them Sienna Miller (As You Like It, Wyndham’s, 2005), Daniel Radcliffe (Equus, Gielgud, 2007), Orlando Bloom (In Celebration, Duke of York’s, 2007) and Ewan McGregor (Othello, Donmar Warehouse, 2008).

Highs and lows

Such is the kudos of Theatreland that film star Kevin Spacey decided to dedicate himself to London by becoming Artistic Director of Laurence Olivier’s old haunt, the Old Vic, in 2004. Elsewhere, Michael Grandage cemented the thriving reputation of the intimate Donmar Warehouse after succeeding Sam Mendes in 2002, and the National Theatre has seen two new directors. Trevor Nunn held the post from 1998-2003, in a term that included major productions of Oklahoma! – with a pre-X-Men Hugh Jackman – Miller’s All My Sons and My Fair Lady. Current incumbent Nicholas Hytner kicked off his time on the South Bank with the controversial new musical Jerry Springer – The Opera. The foul-mouthed production, based on the outlandish American talk show and featuring characters including a diaper fetishist, became the first original musical to transfer into the West End from the National and won the 2004 Best New Musical Laurence Olivier Award.

Sadly, Theatreland has had its share of lows as well of highs this decade, as terrorism reared its ugly head. Both the Twin Towers attacks of 11 September 2001 and the London tube bombings four years later caused a depletion of tourists visiting the West End. But Theatreland was determined that the show must go on. Despite closing for the first time since the Blitz on 7 July 2005, the next day most theatres reopened, holding a one-minute silence before their performances as a mark of respect for the victims of the bombings.

100 and counting

Against the odds, Theatreland has thrived since then, despite the continued threat of terrorism that saw the Haymarket escape a failed car bomb attack in 2007. As Theatreland celebrated 100 years, it enjoyed unprecedented numbers of ticket sales and new theatregoers, buoyed by 2006’s glut of new musical productions and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s venture into reality TV. The ever-forward thinking Lord cast his last three productions through BBC television shows, thrusting unknowns Connie Fisher (The Sound Of Music), Lee Mead (Joseph And The Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat) and Jodie Prenger (Oliver!) into the limelight and first-time theatregoers into the West End as a result. The process may have its critics, but there is no sign of the trend slowing down at present.

As well as reality television, the internet has impacted on Theatreland in the last 10 years. Websites like Official London Theatre can now disseminate information about the West End throughout the world, ticket booking has been revolutionised, and You Tube and social networking sites are increasingly used for viral marketing campaigns, especially to draw young people to the theatre.

Births, Deaths and Events

What Sir John Gielgud would have thought of the National Theatre’s Facebook group is anyone’s guess. The last of the greats of the 20th century died in 2000 at the grand old age of 96. Others who also had their last days this decade were actors Ian Richardson and Nigel Hawthorne, the writer-director Ned Sherrin and Chicago lyricist Fred Ebb.

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