West End packs its bags for Broadway

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The Independent Online
FOR Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, it will be serendipity in spring. The couple will soon both be starring in British theatre productions abroad, just blocks away from each other on Broadway in New York.

Coming to New York seems almost unavoidable, whether you are actor, writer or producer.

British invasions of Broadway are hailed almost every season. But in 1998, it's reaching huge proportions. "Forget having to go to London to see the British theater," trumpeted USA Today. "This spring, most of it is here."

The surge of British and Irish imports makes this one of the most interesting spells on Broadway in years. Voices lamenting the triumph of tired mega (mainly British) musicals over straight plays and comedies are silenced.

True, Ms Richardson's vehicle is a musical. She is playing Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes's revival of Cabaret, transplanted from London's Donmar Warehouse to the old Club Expo.

The prospects for Mr Neeson are less certain. His home will be the Broadhurst Theater where David Hare's play about Oscar Wilde, The Judas Kiss, will open on 29 April. It was not very well received in London; Mr Hare suggests that Americans may be more receptive to his portrait of Wilde than were the British.

The incursions go on despite the usual resistance of American Equity, which insists on equal numbers of American actors going to London as Britons brought here. A near-victim was the Royal Court/Theatre de Complicite production of Ionesco's The Chairs. Opposition was overcome, however, and the critics loved Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan.

Art, the French-written but British-produced three-hander, opened here last month to similar acclaim, with a mixed cast. Another British-Irish success has been The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh. After just a short run off-Broadway, it is set to transfer to Broadway's Walter Kerr Theater.

"The healthiest Broadway is a department store Broadway - with something for everybody," remarked Jed Bernstein of the League of American Theaters and Producers. Indeed, Broadway is not the only place that the British have landed. Off-Broadway successes this year have ranged from Eddie Izzard to Mark Ravenhill's controversial Shopping and F---ing.

And then there is the Royal Shakespeare Company. It travels first to the Brooklyn Academy of Music and then toWashington with Cymbeline, Hamlet and Krapp's Last Tape. Seats for Samuel Beckett's single-hander at BAM are sold out.

Not only may there be no need for Americans to come to London; Stratford- upon-Avon might not see them either.

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