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‘Cheek’-y return

Cheek by Jowl is back in London, and the Barbican’s got it. Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod‘s much-lauded touring company hasn’t had a West End entry since Matthew Macfadyen played Benedick in Donnellan’s “farewell production” of “Much Ado About Nothing” in 1998.

Next May, Cheek by Jowl will open its adaptation of the 5,000-year-old Sumerian epic “Gilgamesh” at the Barbican Center, inaugurating a 400-seat space that will accommodate two Cheek shows a season over the next three years. (The venue will be refashioned out of an existing auditorium about three times the size.)

The company’s new affiliation as a Barbican artistic associate (the Michael Clark Dance Company is another) comes with a £900,000 ($1.56 million) Arts Council grant, covering not just the work at the Barbican but touring within the U.K. of Donnellan and Ormerod’s growing repertory in Russia.

“I’ve always had commitment problems about buildings, but I have a deep need for a home now,” says Donnellan, whose freelance forays (“Martin Guerre,” “Hay Fever”) haven’t generated the enthusiasm that accompanied the work of Cheek by Jowl from its inception in 1981.

“Homes are breaking out all over,” cracked Barbican a.d. Graham Sheffield, speaking from New York, where he was immersing himself in the Lincoln Center Festival. (Matthew Bourne, for instance, has recently attached his New Adventures troupe to Sadler’s Wells.)

The aim, says Sheffield, is “companies that have a U.K. base but with international reputations, that can look in and out.” In June, the Barbican will host Donnellan’s Russian-language “Twelfth Night,” which later tours to Stratford as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s complete-works Bardathon in February 2007.

Projects in the second year will be “Cymbeline” and “Three Sisters,” with the 2008 selections as yet unnamed. After that? Who knows, says Sheffield: “We’re not saying X company is going to be with you for life. These are not marriages; these are partnerships.”

Transfer triumph

Where did they go right, to paraphrase a song from their own show? Very clearly somewhere. As of this month, “The Producers” can join that tiny band of Broadway-to-London transfers that has paid back on the West End, in this case to the tune of £5.5 million ($9.55 million) in just over nine months.

The Drury Lane production also is trumpeting the highest single-day box office sales in West End history (some $650,000 on Nov. 10, the day the reviews came out) as well as the highest weekly West End gross: nearly $1.5 million over Christmas week.

Meanwhile, the list of transplanted flops is a long one: “The Full Monty,” “Contact,” “Rent” (in its first incarnation), “City of Angels,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” etc.

Carry on, Crawford

The London theater lost one of its most beloved expat Americans July 13, when Dan Crawford, the man behind that cramped prince of pub theaters, Islington’s King’s Head, died of cancer. He was 62.

Born in New Jersey, Crawford moved to London in 1969, at age 26, and promptly began turning the semi-derelict back room of an Islington drinking hole into a desirable address that, over time, attracted Ben Kingsley, Maureen Lipman, Clive Owen and Prunella Scales, among many others, to appear before auds who didn’t mind enduring the subway-at-rush-hour conditions and (in summer) sweltering heat in the pursuit of art.

The theater’s latest entry, “Who’s the Daddy?,” opening July 25 — a farce inspired by the sexual shenanigans at irreverent London weekly the Spectator that for some months were daily headline news. (Claudia Shear plays the mag’s publisher, Kimberly Fortier.)

Although the King’s Head at different times embraced the sobriety of Peter Nichols and the erudition of Tom Stoppard, Crawford always had a sense of fun. One hopes “Who’s the Daddy?” will, too.

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