Heartbreak House is in preview at The Almeida, London N1 (0171- 359 4404); Mon-Sat to 2 Sept
As Hilaire Belloc wrote, "It made one gasp and stretch one's eyes". He was talking about Matilda, who Told Lies and Perished Miserably. A similar fate befell Raquel. In this year's stupidest piece of casting, producers ignored the evidence of their own eyes and cast La Welch as a woman disguised as a female impersonator in the musical Victor/Victoria. Raquel Welch as a man? They should have asked the nearest gay man who would have taken one look at the insane idea and uttered the homosexual word for "no": "Puhleease." They didn't, and the whole ghastly episode ended in tears.

Earlier, when Julie Andrews, the original lead, took a well-earned holiday, the producers hired Liza Minnelli. Smart move. She's been working the same gamin style (and haircut) for 30 years. She knew it would come back into fashion eventually. What possessed them then to choose men's idea of the perfect woman?

It all proves what we already knew: casting is crucial. When will producers learn that it is not enough to wave a contract under the nose of the nearest name in order to pull the wool over our eyes? We theatregoers ain't so dumb.

Such shenanigans are not unknown on the part of British producers. David Rabe's scalding insider-Hollywood stormer, Hurly Burly, picked up some of the best notices of Peter Hall's uneven Old Vic season. Most of the praise was heaped upon its stars. Suddenly, an expensive advertisement appeared in a Sunday newspaper announcing a West End transfer with new cast member Patsy Kensit. Could her tabloid appeal as Mrs L Gallagher be uppermost in anybody's mind, perchance?

Unfortunately, the ad appeared before the aforementioned actress had signed on the dotted line. Wisely, she had second thoughts. We now have the pleasure of a different star in Bill Kenwright's production: Jenny Seagrove.

Names can make a difference. There's a myth that actors are jealous of one another: too much talent on stage is dangerously combustible. Nonsense. Respecting and being challenged by one another creates a much more exciting atmosphere. Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House has always attracted dynamic ensembles, and David Hare's Almeida production is no exception. His cast includes John Bowe (Lynda la Plante's mesmerising, original Prime Suspect), Patricia Hodge, Emma Fielding, plus Richard Griffiths and Malcolm Sinclair, the droll double act from BBC's delicious Pie in the Sky. Oh yes. And Penelope Wilton. I'd book early if I were you.

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