- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 28, 2007

LONDON

Top Hollywood heroes who do a turn on the London stage are destroying British theater, leading playwright Sir Alan Ayckbourn said Friday.

Americans lured to the West End theater district to sell tickets are incapable of stage acting, stifle new talent and leave theatergoers disappointed, Mr. Ayckbourn said in an interview with the Times newspaper.

Some performers could “barely be heard beyond row three,” fumed Mr. Ayckbourn, whose plays are performed more than those of any other living British writer, in a stinging assault on the “Hollywood effect.”

“What is happening is that the theater is being stuffed with the stars’ fans. What they experience in the theater is a poor performance, and they go out profoundly disappointed and disenchanted,” the 67-year-old said.

“That is another blow for the theater. You’ve emptied the theater for a whole load of people who will never go again.”

Singling out two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey as one of the few American film stars who could act onstage, Mr. Ayckbourn ridiculed the worst offenders for having no idea what to do with their arms.

He said that instead of blaming their idol, fans went home thinking that they simply did not enjoy watching live theater.

Mr. Ayckbourn said West End producers were not prepared to risk casting new talent and building up their own actors.

“Instead,” notes Mr. Ayckbourn, “we see a steady dribble of television stars.

“We have tremendous talent in this country. Young actors have never been better, but they are fed up with seeing their jobs whipped away by people who’ve chanced by a television camera or stood in a field taking off their clothes.”

The Times also listed some hits and misses on the West End stage.

Mr. Spacey, Woody Harrelson, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow were hailed as hits, while Glenn Close, Matt Damon, Jerry Hall, Madonna, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer were all branded flops.

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