Hall and Stoppard unveil rival to Arts Council

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SOME OF Britain's best-known theatrical figures have set up a rival arts council to monitor and draw attention to the Government's treatment of the arts.

Sir Peter Hall revealed the existence of the body yesterday at the Laurence Olivier Awards, where he was receiving a special award for his lifetime contribution to theatre.

He said he would be chairing the council, which was set up this week. The playwrights Sir Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter will be on it, as will Sir Harrison Birtwistle, the composer. Sir Peter said the body would feed the press with information and would be a place for arts lovers among the public to make known their dissatisfaction with the Government and the funding bodies.

The awards are one of the high points of the theatrical calendar and yesterday's ceremony at the National's Olivier Theatre in London was attended by the Hollywood star Kevin Spacey, who won the Best Actor Award for his role in The Iceman Cometh. The play also won Best Director for Howard Davies.

But Sir Peter stole the show with a stinging attack on the Government, much to the discomfort of Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who sat unsmiling in the audience.

Sir Peter said: "There is a passionate, passionate group of people who are worried about the state of the arts. They are artists and they are saying what has happened to the Arts Council? At the moment the Government announces new money but at the other end it is not there. That means the new money has been spent on management consultants and feasibility studies. I still don't think the Government understands the importance of the arts.

"We are desperately apathetic and stupid about our greatest resources, and one of them is the arts."

Sir Peter has had his request to the Arts Council turned down for financial assistance to run the Old Vic theatre in London and he is spending six months directing plays in America.

Mr Smith said later: "Peter Hall has ignored what has happened in the past year. I will be very interested to hear from him and his secretive body. We have an Arts Council that is full of artists and an Arts Council that is in the process of halving the number of staff. So it cannot be called over- bureaucratic."

The Best Actress went to Eileen Atkins for her performance in The Unexpected Man. The National Theatre's production of Oklahoma! picked up four awards - Best Musical, Best Supporting Performance in a Musical for Shuler Hensley, Best Choreographer for Susan Stroman and Best Set Designer for Anthony Ward.

Best New Comedy was Terry Johnson's Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick. Brendan Coyle won Best Supporting Performance for The Weir and Sophie Thompson was Best Actress in a Musical for Into the Woods. Kat and the Kings was Best New Musical.

Kevin Spacey said he was overwhelmed to receive his award from Lady Olivier, the actress Joan Plowright. Lady Olivier sparked laughter when, referring to her late husband, she said: "If I can put a new spin on an old phrase, I'm as happy as Larry to be here."