‘Cell’-Out Business

Would actor Stephen Fry (“Peter’s Friends,” “IQ”) have enjoyed the fame accompanying his defection from Simon Gray’s “Cell Mates” had he not jumped ship (literally) and hopped a ferry to Dunkirk a week into the West End run? Unlikely. As it is, the star has joined an illustrious list of fraught thespians who have abandoned plays – or performances – at one time or another, including Ian Holm, Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicol Williamson.

Some find him a hero (“a national treasure,” said the Daily Telegraph); others, a bit of a brat (“overwork in the entertainment profession isn’t the same as overwork elsewhere,” editorialized the Evening Standard).

And what of producer Duncan C. Weldon, whose job it is either to close the show or find a way for it to continue – in this case, the latter. “I know what I think, and I know what I’m going to do,” said Weldon, who wouldn’t elaborate on the specifics of lawsuits or insurance beyond commenting, “I don’t think you’re insured against people walking out.”

Simon Ward (“Young Winston”) stepped into Fry’s part March 1 after just five days of rehearsal and less than a week after closing in Peter Hall’s revival of “On Approval.” Ward’s quick response says as much about the resilience of actors in this country as Fry’s behavior says about their eccentricities.

As for “Cell Mates” itself, the 16-week run originally announced is now down to 12 and, said Weldon, “whether we’ll last that long, I don’t know.” Fry’s departure “certainly has affected the business,” said the prolific producer.

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