Captain Moonlight: Offstage drama at the Mermaid

Charles Neviin
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:55

A RISKY business, the theatre. But some theatres are more risky than others. The Mermaid, for example, the creation of the late Lord (Bernard) Miles at Puddle Dock in the City of London, re-creation of the poet-packed Elizabethan original. 'What things have we seen, done at the Mermaid]' wrote Beaumont, of that well- known writing team, Beaumont and Fletcher.

Most of the latter excitement at the new Mermaid has, unfortunately, been offstage. Miles ran into horrendous money troubles. It was then bought by Abdul Shamji, a Ugandan Asian, of Gomba Holdings, owner at various times of the Duchess, the Garrick and a bit of Wembley stadium, who was sentenced in 1989 to 15 months' imprisonment for lying about his assets during a High Court inquiry into the Johnson Mathey bank collapse.

Gomba still owns the Mermaid. Its stewardship has been unmarked by artistic success. But last June, Shamji's youngest son, Akbar, a Cambridge student, emerged as general manager, promising to infuse some fresh artistic humanity into the City. His first production was a one-man show based on the life of Muhammad Ali. Ali was brought over for the opening night. The play flopped. Akbar returned to Cambridge and a lot of people didn't get paid, including printers, publicists and the charity which secured Henry Cooper's attendance in return for a promise of pounds 5,000.

The Mermaid now has a new artistic director, Marc Sinden, son of the more famous Donald. Sinden Jr is talking bravely of setting up a company which will lease the Mermaid from Shamji, light up the City, and, incidentally, take on the debts from Ali. These have been put at pounds 80,000, a figure described as an 'exaggeration' by Alim Shamji, another son, at Gomba. The creditors, meanwhile, are growing increasingly restive and are discussing concerted action. Muhammad Ali, by the way, got his dollars 25,000 fee up front. Still not so dumb.

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