‘And Then’ Agatha

LONDON — STAND BY FOR THE OCTOBER WEST END bow of a new version of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” tweaked by contempo scribe Kevin Elyot with Steven Pimlott directing a cast of 10. (Mark Thompson, of “Mamma Mia!” renown, is the designer.)

The play, says producer Brigid Larmour of ACT Prods., is “a very good illustration of (Christie’s) dark and retributive sense of justice. The characters are all called to account for past crimes.” However grand guignol a piece, the production will, she says, have an inescapable glamour. “If you book Steven and Mark on a show, it’s because you want a very theatrical piece and a very atmospheric piece, frankly, which also has fabulous frocks.”

Larmour and Nick Salmon are the lead producers for ACT, alongside Karl Sydow and New York impresario Nelle Nugent. “We all hope it will make the journey west in due course,” Larmour says of the show, which hits the West End without benefit of an out-of-town tryout. Gemma Jones (“Bridget Jones”) and Tara Fitzgerald (Ophelia to Ralph Fiennes‘ 1995 stage Hamlet) are among those being paged to head the cast.

Nothing like a dame

Arnold Wesker turns 73 on May 24, but the acclaimed author of such seminal British plays as “Roots” remains a busy bee. First — and most important — is his two-hander “Groupie,” skedded for a February start at Kevin Spacey‘s Old Vic Theater as part of a continuing effort to find critical appeal to equal popular allure at the South Bank venue.

“They’ve had a rough ride, but it hasn’t stopped them from having full houses, apparently,” or so says Wesker. “Groupie” was first aired on BBC Radio in 2001, with Timothy West and Barbara Windsor in its two roles. “A feel-good play,” in Wesker’s words, about a woman of 60 and the male painter she idolizes, first from afar, and then closer at hand; the Old Vic staging is pursuing Judi Dench as the femme lead.

Dench, says Wesker, “would certainly give the play a launch. You need someone like Judi to fill that barn of a theater.” No director has been named.

Wesker would appear to be on something of a roll himself. His 1958 play “Chicken Soup With Barley,” recently revived to acclaim at the Nottingham Playhouse, looks set for an October transfer to north London’s Tricycle Theater. That’s the same week his stage adaptation of the Dava Sobel novel “Longitude” opens at southeast London’s Greenwich Theater (through Oct. 29).

As if that weren’t enough, Wesker’s first novel, “Honey,” is published Sept. 5 in London from Simon & Schuster, while he has penned the libretto for a solo opera for the female voice to be scored by Japanese composer Shigeaki Saegusa; a Tokyo preem is on tap, dates TBA.

Isn’t this rather a lot for a grand old man of the British stage who could be forgiven for wanting to put his feet up? (His 1962 play “Chips With Everything” received a stunning National Theater revival in 1997, with Howard Davies directing Rupert Penry-Jones). “When you write something,” says Wesker by telephone from Brighton, “it has to be written.” We’ll say amen to that.

Brit bits

  • What’s in a name? Quite a lot if you’re the classic Frank Loesser musical “Guys and Dolls” with a star like Ewan McGregor in the lead. Reports peg box office for the £3 million ($5.52 million) revival at the Piccadilly Theater at the £7 million ($12.88 million) mark, which is being touted as a West End record at the moment.

  • Next stop China: That’s the thinking behind a collaboration of the U.K.’s own Cameron Mackintosh and the Shanghai Grand Theater, who together have announced their intention to present Chinese-language productions of celebrated Western musicals for Chinese auds. Look for “Les Miserables,” already seen in China in 2002, to open in Shanghai in 2007. Other equally well-known titles are likely to follow close behind.