Rickman is truly mad after Americans cancel his play

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* Alan Rickman's efforts to conquer Broadway have sparked the sort of tit-for-tat row that inflames his cantankerous alter ego, Severus Snape.

Last week, the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled plans to stage My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play co-written and directed by the noted actor and Harry Potter star.

In a statement, they claimed the production, about a peace activist killed by Israeli tanks in 2003, had been canned due to "time pressures" and Rickman's "filming commitments".

Yesterday, Rickman, above, hit back. A strongly-worded, two-page letter from the Royal Court Theatre, which first staged Rachel Corrie, accused the Yanks of telling porky pies.

It claimed the New York Theatre Workshop got cold feet after being lobbied by local Jewish leaders.

"It's pretty unfair of them to blame Alan's filming commitments when he'd actually cleared his diary," says a spokesman. "I'm afraid this is more about censorship."

As well as listing "many factual inaccuracies" in the New York Theatre Workshop's statement, the Royal Court's release claims the affair has cost them many thousands of pounds.

"A budget had been set; a press release had been mutually agreed; flights had been booked and paid for," it reads.

Rickman is now searching for an alternative venue. Meanwhile, his chum Vanessa Redgrave has published a letter accusing the Americans of " censorship of the worst kind" and "blacklisting a dead girl and her diaries".

* Sam Preston "pulled" Chantelle Houghton on Celebrity Big Brother; but political punditry's a tougher nut to crack.

The dishy singer recently agreed to guest-edit this Sunday's BBC South edition of the Politics Show, electing to look at homelessness in his native Brighton. Unfortunately, he's so far failed to attract any starry guests.

"Preston gave us a wish-list, but none of them have said yes yet," says my man at the Beeb.

"He wanted Oona King, but she's overseas. He also asked Will Self, but he's not responded. And his other choice, Yvette Cooper, is also looking iffy."

Preston now faces the embarrassment of settling for a rapper called Skinnyman, and Celia Barlow, the unglamorous local MP.

The BBC is putting a brave face on things, saying: "There's an initial wish-list of guests we think may be good, and of course some of those will be able to appear, and some won't."

Meanwhile, Self may yet come on board. "My teenage kids are quite keen on Preston," he explains.

* Jack Straw often speaks like a man with a blocked-up nose; now he does so with good reason.

Our Foreign Secretary is confined to bed with a cold, and has cancelled a meeting today with the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

"Callers to Straw's office are being told that he's been struck down with a bout of 'man flu'," says my man in Whitehall.

"It's one of the hazards of life when you're Jack. Not long ago, he came back from a trip to Asia with a nasty dose of the Delhi Trots."

As a result of his poor health, Straw has garnered the nickname " Sicknote". I wish him a speedy recovery.

* The Oscars may be done and dusted for another year, but the petty disputes they inspired are only just kicking off.

Yesterday, I noted that Keira Knightley wore a headline-grabbing Bulgari necklace, despite being the £1m "face" of a rival jeweller, Asprey.

Now rival fashion houses are in a tizzy over the outfit worn by another Hollywood star: Reese Witherspoon. She turned up in a Dior gown, despite being expected to model an outfit from Chanel's London store.

"It's an act of revenge," reckons one pundit. "You see, Chanel loaned Reese a dress for the recent Golden Globes, but it then turned out that Kirsten Dunst had worn the same outfit two years earlier.

"It might sound petty, but Oscar night is big business; don't be surprised if heads roll over this."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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