Another Hollywood star steps on to stage

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The Independent Online
THE WEST End has again turned to a Hollywood star to bring new audiences to the theatre. After Kevin Spacey, Nicole Kidman and Richard Dreyfuss, the latest import is Charlton Heston. At 74 he is considerably older but boasts a longevity to which the others can only aspire.

Indeed, to add an extra ingredient in celebrity casting, Heston is performing the two- hander with his actress/photographer wife, Lydia Clarke Heston, for the short run which, unusually for the West End, is also playing on Sundays.

A R Gurney's modern American play Love Letters, which opened last night at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, races the story of a couple who play out their lifelong love affair by reading out letters to each other.

The letters follow two Wasp kids, Andy and Melissa, growing apart but never quite going their separate ways. They are packed off to single-sex summer camps and high schools.

Andy, always the more staid, becomes a Republican senator; she a risque artist. Though initially the more flighty, Melissa ends up the desperately dependent one after the pair have a fling late in life.

Despite his legendary film career, Heston remains committed to the theatre. And he is sceptical of Hollywood stars who stick only to movies. "They either think they are above it or they are afraid," he says.

He recently spied the actor Robert De Niro in a restaurant. "I introduced myself and told him he was the best American actor of his generation. I went on, `That said, to be anybody you really have to do some Shakespeare.' It made him really angry."

Heston uses Shakespeare to help him keep in shape for the stage - by getting up at 4.30am, and having a long swim reciting soliloquies from the Bard as he ploughs up and down the pool. "You've got to be able to manage six or seven iambic pentameters in a breath," he says.

The Hestons are playing Sundays for the 32-performance run of the play thanks to a one-off agreement negotiated by the Theatre Royal management with its staff.

Only a handful of plays give Sunday performances; and the backstage union Bectu recently voted against opening up the whole of the West End for Sunday performances.

Theatre managers will be watching to see how successful Love Letters is as part of their campaign to give London the New York habit of venues opening for the whole weekend and closing Mondays.