London journalists had a chance to see Hollywood stars and dedicated thespians Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett in the flesh today (15 September 2008) at a press briefing to launch a collaboration between Hoffman’s New York-based LAByrinth Theater Company (LAB), Blanchett’s Sydney Theatre Company (STC) and the West End’s Trafalgar Studios (See News, 8 Aug 2008) – but, sadly, London theatregoers won’t be so lucky.

Although it’s hoped that the number of transfers between New York, Sydney and London will increase as a result of the new exchange, which commences tonight with the first preview of Riflemind, directed by Hoffman, there are no plans for either Hoffman or Blanchett to take to the stage themselves in the West End.

Blanchett will be treading the boards shortly in Australia in Richard II (in the title role) and as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire (which transfers to New York and Washington after Sydney), while, speaking to today, Hoffman said that due to family commitments (his third child is due shortly), “the only place I could do a play right now is New York … I’m going to keep doing theatre, but for short runs”.


Speaking today, Howard Panter, joint chief executive and creative director of the Ambassador Theatre Group, which owns Trafalgar Studios, said: “The plan, building on the new creative bridge between these international companies, is to produce and exchange work on a regular basis which might not otherwise be seen in our different cities.” The London connection was made when Panter was in Australia and saw the world premiere of Riflemind at Sydney Theatre Company last autumn.

Blanchett and her husband, Riflemind author Andrew Upton, took over as co-artistic directors of Sydney Theatre Company earlier this year. Upton invited Philip Seymour Hoffman to direct the play, in both Sydney and London, having been close friends since Hoffman appeared with Blanchett in the 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley. Seymour Hoffman said today that, bringing the play to London is “just a plus”, because “this is more about Andrew Upton and my relationship with Andrew. I think he’s an exciting writer.”

Panter said today that he hoped the new relationship would “build towards” a year-round in-house programme at Trafalgar Studios and envisioned that, when an STC or LAB production was resident in Studio 1 for a three- to four-month season, they would simultaneously occupy the 100-seat Studio 2 with related workshops, readings and educational projects.

However, the other partners fought shy of making concrete commitments. “We’re not trying to fill quotas,” said Andrew Upton. “It’s about creating pathways for work that’s ready to be seen”, with transfers happening only “as and when” appropriate. “The more organic (the evolution of the association), the better,” according to Seymour Hoffman, while Blanchett was most excited about the combined efforts for nurturing new work.

“All three companies are committed to the development process,” said the actress, adding that the relationship is non-exclusive and that STC is in talks with other London-based organisations. “In theatre, it’s all about communication; we don’t exist in isolation,” she said. Panter described the association as “not a monogamous relationship, but a special” one nonetheless.

After Riflemind, which opens to the press on Thursday (18 September 2008) and continues in Trafalgar Studios 1 until 3 January 2009, STC will present the Australian premiere next June of the Award-winning comedy Elling, which was co-produced by ATG and transferred to Trafalgar Studios last year after its initial run at the Bush Theatre. ATG is also collaborating with LAByrinth on a new piece, David Bar Katz’s Philip Roth in Khartoum, which may transfer to London if it’s a success in New York.

Others involved in the three-way collaboration who attended today’s press briefing included, from ATG, joint chief executive Rosemary Squire, head of production Meryl Faiers and associate producer Tali Pelman; from STC, general manager Rob Brookman and from LAByrinth, co-artistic director and executive director John Gould Rubin.

Pelman said that – similar to what Kevin Spacey has done at the Old Vic and what the Theatre Royal Haymarket attempted to do with its inaugural in-house programme, which finished prematurely this past weekend – ATG hopes to develop an identity for Trafalgar Studios as a destination venue for theatregoers, marrying the ethos of subsidised programming with commercial practicalities. “It’s really about trying to have a meeting between those worlds - taking the risks that may be more associated with the subsidised sector, but doing it in the West End to ensure that this work still happens in the West End, because increasingly new plays are just seen as too much of a risk.”

- by Terri Paddock