Click to follow
If there were a tried and tested route to sure-fire theatrical success, being a producer would be a doddle. Unfortunately for producers, it isn't. You can have what looks like the hottest of hot properties on your hands, only to find your production left out in the cold by audience indifference.

What looks good on the page can lose everything on stage. Casting is about chemistry, and even good actors can fail if they have to work with a badly designed set or a lazy director. In a business where about the only things to make serious money are large-scale musicals, producers have to have very deep pockets... or Maggie Smith.

Not only is Smith a great actress, she's that excessively rare thing: a box-office guarantee.

Combine that with the fact that she's appearing in the latest play by Alan Bennett (above) and you have a box-office stampede. If you haven't already booked do so immediately.

In preview, "The Lady In the Van", Queen's Theatre, London W1 (0171- 494 5040), pounds 12.50-pounds 30