The Week in Arts: Please don't sell off your smaller theatres

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The Independent Online

So, why is he selling? How many is he selling? Is he selling at all?

So, why is he selling? How many is he selling? Is he selling at all?

This week's reports of Andrew Lloyd Webber's supposed plan to offload some or all of his West End theatres are as full of mystery as his latest production, The Woman in White. But I can try to answer some of the questions raised.

The line being pushed by the Lloyd Webber camp - that their man is weary of the life of a business mogul and simply wants to sit by his piano and compose - should be taken with a pinch of salt. Lord Lloyd-Webber loves owning his powerhouse playhouses with the big musicals inside. It is the smaller houses, significantly the ones that tend not to make a profit, he may not mind losing.

But a Lloyd Webber with no theatres at all, leaving his old buddy and rival Sir Cameron Mackintosh the one outstanding impresario in Theatreland? I think not.

What we will end up seeing, I suspect, is the smaller theatres sold off, with Lloyd Webber retaining control of the London Palladium, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Her Majesty's and the Palace. They are his West End powerhouses. That would seem to be his thinking and, no doubt, the thinking of his canny wife, Madeleine, a figure absent from this week's stories, but a figure very much present in the strategy of his empire.

But I hope he thinks again about those smaller playhouses. When Lloyd Webber bought the West End theatres from Stoll Moss five years ago, I wrote that it was great news for the world of theatre. Here was a man passionate about the art form. He phoned me that morning to say he appreciated the sentiment, and we chatted about what might happen with the difficult, smaller auditoria.

I believed, and believe still, that it would be a fascinating experiment to use one of them as a venue that could show Londoners the best of theatre outside the capital. Great things are happening in Leeds, Clwyd, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Birmingham (when they don't cave in to protesters), Newcastle and elsewhere. Yet Londoners see only a tiny fraction of the output.

I'm sure there are other ideas - a venue for new writing and a theatre of comedy are two that spring to mind. An imaginative and passionate impresario such as Andrew Lloyd Webber could make some of this happen. An American conglomerate would almost certainly not make it happen.

I hope Lord Lloyd-Webber thinks again about selling off his smaller theatres. They may not make a profit; but they, and he, can ensure that cultural life in Britain profits from them.

Snapshot of a very private film star

Audrey Tautou, the French film star, as studiedly enigmatic as French film stars reassuringly always are, has been giving interviews for her new movie, A Very Long Engagement. The actress, who made her debut as the winsome Amelie, takes a photograph of every journalist who interviews her, presumably to get her revenge if the interviewer tries to reveal anything too personal about the very private star.

She was giving one interviewer this week the usual spiel of how her love life, partner and anything personal were strictly off limits, when he took her by surprise. The interviewer said that the director of her new film, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also directed Amelie, had told him: "She has changed a lot; she's happy, maybe because she's in love." Tautou stammered: "But we never talk about our private lives. He doesn't know my apartment, my friends. I am not willing to show everything about my feelings." And she looked visibly shocked.

Perhaps she should stop worrying about journalists and start photographing her directors.

¿ It's Olivier awards time and that means the daftest awards categories in the arts calendar - dance and opera. The rules of the Olivier awards state that eligible productions have to have been seen in London.

The capital has only one dedicated dance house, Sadler's Wells. And what do you know - Sadler's Wells secured a staggering seven nominations this week. Indeed it secured every single dance nomination.

London has only two opera houses, so the Royal Opera House got a phenomenal six nominations. Now those institutions can use those Olivier endorsements on their advertising material.

The great Laurence Olivier, who had a fine sense of the ridiculous, would have given a mighty chuckle.