Not even Altman can save Spacey from another flop at the Old Vic

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The Independent Culture

It was hailed as Kevin Spacey's first major triumph as artistic director of the Old Vic, but the production of Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues is closing early after disappointing ticket sales.

The play, which was dogged by bad reviews and reports of turmoil backstage, will see the final curtain come down next Saturday, a week early. Soon after the play opened, tickets were being sold at half-price and seats are available for all the remaining performances. "This is a difficult time of year for theatre and ticket sales are down everywhere," a spokesman said.

The play marked the British stage directing debut of Robert Altman, the celebrated American film director whose works include MASH and Gosford Park.

Altman lured stars including Matthew Modine, Neve Campbell and the Oscar-winning Maximilian Schell to star in it.

But despite the efforts of Spacey, the prestigious theatre and the big names, the play was always overshadowed by off-stage incidents. Last Wednesday, Jane Adams, an American actress, walked out on the play after a matinée and never came back. No reason has been given for her departure and her role was taken by the understudy. John Wood was also forced to drop out of a role and James Fox stepped in just a month ahead of previews.

A spokesman for the show said: "I can confirm that Jane Adams has left the show but cannot say any more than that."

Altman himself admitted in an interview that he did not know the script of the play that well. "I don't know this script ... I read this script once myself a long time ago and I've heard it read. But I don't know the play," he said.

People who saw early performances of the play reported that the cast, in particular Schell, appeared to have had trouble remembering their lines.

Critics were unimpressed. Paul Taylor, of The Independent, said: "The distinguished cast look and sound as if they have been allowed to lose faith in themselves and in the material. Their various styles never cohere - how could Schell's rhythm-mangling, Teutonic, terminally unfunny dictator possibly be related to the shame-faced, Anglo-American terminally unfunny James Fox who plays his intellectual cousin?"

Spacey, who has been artistic director for almost three years, has brought Hollywood glamour to Waterloo Road and raised its profile. However, he has become the most scrutinised artistic director of any British theatre and his tenure at the Old Vic got off to a controversial start when his first two plays, Cloaca in September 2004 and National Anthems, also received negative reviews.

Audience numbers for some of his productions have been high - 400,000 people have visited the Old Vic since his appointment, and in January, Spacey won a Critics' Circle theatre award for his performance in Richard II. He also won praise for a production of Aladdin in which Sir Ian McKellen played Widow Twankey.

No production is scheduled to be staged at the theatre until autumn, when Spacey is set to star in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's A Moon For The Misbegotten.

A spokesman for the Old Vic said: "Resurrection Blues did remarkably well given the reviews it got. A lot of people came and liked it more than the critics."