Film stars flee Hollywood for the West End stage

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The Independent Culture

A dearth of good Hollywood plots is driving many movie stars to the West End of London, with three more joining the invasion for a single play.

After Nicole Kidman, Macauley Culkin and Kathleen Turner, all of whom have found acclaim on the stage, the latest invasion of stars coming to London for far less money than they are accustomed to includes Brendan Fraser, star of The Mummy, Frances O'Connor, who is in Steven Spielberg's AI Artificial Intelligence, and Ned Beatty, who was in John Boorman's classic movie Deliverance. They will be appearing in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Lyric Theatre next month.

Their arrival coincides with growing criticism of poor screenwriting in Hollywood, with Pearl Harbor and Planet of the Apes two recent examples.

Beatty said yesterday: "A lot of things we have been doing in Hollywood were not that fulfilling as far as story-telling was concerned." O'Connor added: "So much in films is about the lighting and the camera and the effects, and it's not that satisfying for an actor. Sometimes you feel you're really not earning your money."

The show's producer, Bill Kenwright, said he had been trying for seven years to get the rights to the play. He had to clear the cast with the Williams estate, who doubted his promise that he could woo Fraser to the London stage.

"They said: 'For real?' and told me it would take three years to get him away from movie commitments," Mr Kenwright said. "A producer probably once in a lifetime gets a production like this. Ian McKellen acted with Brendan in the film Gods and Monsters and told me, 'This boy really is the real McCoy if you can get him to do a stage play'. Since then he has become one of the biggest film stars in the world after his success in The Mummy."

Mr Kenwright said he was mesmerised by O'Connor when she played Madame Bovary on television. "It was an animal performance," he added.

Fraser said yesterday that appearing on the London stage was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition. "The opportunity to play a part like this comes along once in a lifetime," he said. "For me this is the original, where the best actors in the world congregate. The feeling that I can be a part of that is really exciting."

Defending the use of American movie stars on the West End stage, Mr Kenwright said Fraser and O'Connor were the best two actors for the parts.

"If you cast someone, it is first of all for talent and secondly for someone being right for the part," he said.

"Anyone who casts someone in a play simply because they are an American name is doomed to failure.

"There have been a couple of instances where film stars have come across to do not very good plays and have failed. You have got to start with the play and we are so blessed with this play and with these people."

The stars do not arrive with a guarantee of success. There have been distinctly mixed reviews for Daryl Hannah in The Seven-Year Itch and Charlton Heston in Love Letters.