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The Independent Culture
Backstage at the Queen's, Helen Montagu totters serenely through the wings in high-heeled black patent leather court shoes. Something blocks her way. 'Can that piano be moved, darling?' she asks, with a slight emphasis on the 'darling' which leaves the stage-hand in no doubt that the question is an order.

Helen Montagu belongs to what she calls 'the smallest profession in the world', and Hot Shoe Shuffle is her show. 'There are only a few people who are masochistic enough to want to be a producer,' she says. 'The only creative role in the theatre is the author; everybody else interprets. The job of the producer is to get the best interpreters, find the theatre, find the money - and then take the blame if it all goes wrong.'

More than 30 years in the theatre has taught her the unpredictable nature of the business. Born in Australia, she started as an actress, then worked as a casting director and administrator in the Royal Court's heyday: the era of Osborne, Wesker, Pinter and Bond. Her skill in closing deals led to the affectionate soubriquet 'Bodicea from the Bush'. Two years ago she and David Merrick were responsible for the tap-dancing extravaganza 42nd Street, and now she brings the all-Australian Hot Shoe Shuffle to the West End.

'I've always liked a slight edge of danger in theatre,' she says. This could be in a provocative new play, or the sheer thrill of seeing 60 hoofers going at full whack in unison as they did in 42nd Street. 'This dancing is quite dangerous, especially for these Australian boys who aren't used to dancing on a raked stage. It's so precise, but there are moments where they could all just fall.' Clare Bayley

'Hot Shoe Shuffle', Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1; see review page 25

(Photograph omitted)

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