Millionairess is first lady of the theatre

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Janet Holmes a Court, the Australian millionairess who owns 10 London theatres, and suffered a period of vilification when she first came to the West End, is now the most significant figure in British theatre. Each year The Stage, the weekly journal which is the bible of British theatre, assesses the major players on their achievements over the past 12 months.

Mrs Holmes a Court, 53, the widow of Australian businessman Robert Holmes a Court, runs the Stoll Moss West End theatre empire. When she first took over half a dozen years ago some theatre critics wrote vituperative pieces about her saying she would make the West End too commercial and eschew serious theatre. Instead, alongside refurbishing and redeveloping the theatres, she has staged challenging plays such as Mark Ravenhill's Shopping And Fucking and Ben Elton's Popcorn and supported new writers. "She backs new works when others shied away," claims The Stage. She has risen from sixth place last year in the top 100.

Last year's number one, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, has dropped to number two. He has two shows closing, Martin Guerre and Oliver. The Stage rates him "as successful as ever globally", but Mackintosh has had a quiet year in the UK.

Despite a mixed critical reception for the start of his artistic directorship at the National Theatre, Trevor Nunn is at number three "more in expectation of future success rather than current achievements". Far less vague are the reasons for the head of the West Yorkshire Playhouse Jude Kelly achieving the number four position. "Still the eminent force in regional theatre... her personal standing remains high in political circles and is rocketing internationally." Ms Kelly has just directed Othello in Washington DC with Patrick Stewart playing a white Othello.

Another placing which owes more to likely future success rather than achievements during the last 12 months is Andrew Lloyd Webber at number five, down from number three last year. He had two musicals By Jeeves and Sunset Boulevard close last year as well as a raft of redundancies at his Really Useful Group. But success is expected with his new show Whistle Down The Wind.

Among the theatre owners, directors and producers, the only actual performers in the top 20 are Judi Dench at number 12, Simon Russell Beale at number 15 and Maggie Smith at number 20. Dame Judi Dench is described as "still cited as the country's top actor by her peers on a regular basis". Simon Russell Beale, currently Iago in Othello at the National Theatre, is called "the greatest classical stage actor of his generation, still seen to best advantage on the boards despite recent television success". And Dame Maggie Smith is simply called "a stranger to failure". Harold Pinter is ousted from the top 20 after a quiet 1997.

Outside the top 100, the most significant figures are not numbered from 21 to 100, but the citations are notable for turning adulation with the odd barb. Actor-director Steven Berkoff is called "the master of his particular field, but will be ever harness his talents to those of his contemporaries?".

Of Alan Bennett, The Stage says: "Not much to speak of from Bennett recently, but he remains a key part of the regions' staple diet." Alan Bates is characterised as "never the household superstar he so often threatened to become, but still one of the most respected names within the industry".

Of the stranger citations, Deborah Warner wins a plaudit for being "more intellectual than your average director"; Tom Stoppard is lauded as "the intellectual powerhouse of the British theatre" which is followed by the caveat "if not to all tastes, as [his latest play] The Invention Of Love showed".

The top twelve

1. Janet Holmes a Court, theatre owner.

2. Cameron Mackintosh, producer.

3. Trevor Nunn, artistic director, National Theatre.

4. Jude Kelly, artistic director, West Yorkshire Playhouse.

5. Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer.

6. Thelma Holt, producer.

7. Paul Gregg, director Apollo Leisure.

8. Richard Eyre, former artistic director, National Theatre.

9. Max Stafford-Clark, director Out of Joint theatre company.

10. Peter Hall, director The Peter Hall Company.

11. Alan Ayckbourn, playwright.

12. Judi Dench, actress.