Film star Richard E Grant will be appearing at Richmond's Orange Tree Theatre tonight in an effort to raise badly needed funds for the cash-strapped house. The reputed south London fringe venue has been dark for the past five months after running out of money but aims to resume a limited programme in the new year.

Although the Orange Tree has not suffered from any major cuts in grants, like many other small and regional producing theatres, it has been on standstill funding for the past five years while inflationary costs have continued to rise. 'Like most theatres, it's always a struggle to manage on the funding that we get,' administrative director Gillian Thorpe told

The first production of the new year will be Winner Takes All, translated by Reggie Oliver from Georges Feydeau's French farce La Main Passe. Directed by Sam Walters, it will open on 19 January. A new play, commissioned by the theatre, will follow. 'We have a programme scheduled until June 2000 and we think we can afford to come back for the autumn season,' said Thorpe, 'but we may have to have a longish period during the summer when we can't produce.'

Thorpe continued: 'With a little bit more money, we could continue to be a full time producing theatre. Without it, the pattern of having to stop producing for a good part of the year may have to go on.'

Tonight's event, billed as 'Champagne with Richard E Grant', will be an informal and free-ranging audience with the actor, author and raconteur. Originally from South Africa, Grant appeared at the Orange Tree in one of his early stage appearances in this country. His films include Withnail and I, How to Get Ahead in Advertising, Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Jack and Sarah. His books are the memoir With Nails and the novel By Design.

There are a few tickets left for tonight's event. They cost £30 and include champagne. For more information, call the Orange Tree box office on +44-181-940-3633.