Tate and National talking Strindberg

LONDON — Marking a rare instance of synergistic thinking between a museum and a playhouse, the Tate Modern on London’s South Bank will open a major retrospective devoted to August Strindberg’s relatively little-known artistic output on Feb 17. That’s two days after the nearby National Theater opens director Katie Mitchell’s Cottesloe production of the Swedish scribe’s rarely seen “A Dream Play.”

The exhibition runs through May 15 as a reminder that the theatrical iconoclast also kept busy with painting and photography. Strindberg mysteriously stopped painting in 1905, seven years before he died.

Introducing the venture, National a.d. Nicholas Hytner referred to the dual programming as “a collaboration crying out to be made,” while Mitchell spoke of her enthusiasm about a script in which the stage directions, she says, “are almost as exciting as the text.” (Among other things, they call at various times for a flowering tower, 10-foot hollyhocks and a summer’s day with snow.)

“The idea of trying to put a dream onstage is a tantalizing possibility,” says Mitchell, who has received less-than-dreamy early reviews for her Royal Court production of Kevin Elyot’s “Forty Winks,” which opened Nov. 3.

“It’s impossible to do it,” Mitchell says of Strindberg’s 1901 play, which will arrive at the NT in a new version from Caryl Churchill. “What more delightful challenge could you want?”

The rest is silence

Hytner reports “the most astonishing stillness” among the full house at the Nov. 3 Olivier auditorium perf of “Stuff Happens”: It was the first time David Hare’s play about the Bush-Blair axis had gone before an audience since the American election. (Production closed on sked Nov. 6.)

During the second act, says Hytner, the aud “perked up a bit,” though even then, they probably were as shell-shocked by the results across the Atlantic as those UK newscasters who seemed visibly to be choking back emotion in their reporting of events. “There are no more jokes in the play,” Hytner says of “Stuff Happens,” which, before Bush’s re-election, used to garner the odd laugh or two.

Some things are no laughing matter.

Suited up

One hates to break the theatrical illusion. But in the interest of full disclosure, your correspondent jumped at the chance to reveal some specifics of the fat suit in which Michael Crawford is nightly appearing at the Palace Theater in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “The Woman in White”:

  • The star’s Count Fosco getup is made of light plastic and foam and weighs just three pounds.

  • After putting it on, Crawford has a 58-inch chest and 50-inch waist.

  • Thesp drinks at least three liters of water before each show, as he sweats off a liter of fluid per performance.

  • Crawford has three spare suits, each of which takes three days to dry.

Making music

As if London now and for the immediate future weren’t sufficiently awash in musicals, with more major tuners opening in the 2004-05 season than in the past four seasons combined, along comes word of two Broadway classics headed for the English operatic rep.

First up is director Tim Albery’s production for Yorkshire-based Opera North of the 1943 Kurt Weill musical “One Touch of Venus.” Production opens Dec. 4 in Leeds and then tours through April. The American-heavy cast includes L.A. native Loren Geeting as the timid barber, Rodney Hatch, plus Ron Li-Paz, Christianne Tisdale and Karen Coker as Venus.

March 5 sees the opening at English National Opera in London of director Jude Kelly’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town.” Caroline O’Connor, recently onscreen in “De-Lovely,” and Adam Garcia, late of “Saturday Night Fever” on the West End, co-star. That staging plays in rep through May.

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