Sadler's Wells opens with pounds 1m shortfall

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The Independent Online
THE STAGE is set for the opening of one of the UK's biggest Lottery-funded projects today - but behind-the-scenes dramas at Sadler's Wells theatre could bring the curtains down again within months.

The theatre, rebuilt at a cost of pounds 48m, still has a huge gap in its programme after the Royal Opera House decision to axe its performances at the complex in Islington, north London. And that hole in the schedule is set to cause a financial headache for the new Sadler's Wells.

Although the structure is not completely finished and local authority licences have yet to be granted, the first performance is due to begin tonight, with the Rambert Dance Company.

The theatre's opening will be marked with the premiere of Four Scenes, a work specially commissioned by Sadler's Wells.

The new structure - partly funded by a National Lottery grant of pounds 36m - is the sixth theatre to stand on the site and will use the latest techniques to stage shows.

Indeed, it is set to revolutionise dance in London with a stage that is double the size of the old one and which will attract world renowned companies. It can be adapted to have shows "in the round" and images can be projected around the auditorium.

But all the careful planning has been thrown into disarray by the Royal Opera House decision to close down next year.

The ROH had booked Sadler's Wells for a six-month season of opera and ballet, and without those performances the theatre estimates it will be at least pounds 1m down.

Ian Albery, its chief executive, warned recently that closure of the theatre within months of opening was a real possibility.

A spokesman for the theatre said that there was still a chance that this could happen if further cash was not forthcoming "to programme the dark six months".

"However, we are optimistic that this will not happen," he added.

Negotiations have been continuing to sort out the matter and come to a compensation agreement between the theatre, the ROH, the Arts Council and the Government.

Arts, Review, page 9