13 October 2007: Western Mail

Dame Diana Telegraphs Her Concerns Over Lack Of Recognition For Performers In Chekhov Play

An advertisement for a classic play by a top Welsh theatre company has upset one of the UK's most respected actresses.

Dame Diana Rigg has criticised Clwyd Theatr Cymru in Mold for failing to give actors prominent billing in its production of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard.

The ex-Bond girl, who is not herself appearing in the play which opened on Thursday, complained that an advert gave only the names of the director, designer and composer.

A spokesperson for the theatre declined to comment.

Dame Diana, famed for her portrayal of Emma Peel in The Avengers, said some "provincial theatres" adopted a "silly pose" in ignoring the formula that attracted audiences.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph she said that the main attractions were the play, actors and director.

Advertised as Chekhov's last and greatest play, Clwyd Theatr Cymru's production is a new version by Mike Poulton.

His name - along with those of director Terry Hands, designer Johan Engels and composer Colin Towns - are listed above the description of the play on the theatre's website.

The names of the cast, including Simon Armstrong and Julian Lewis Jones, are listed beneath.

But Dame Diana said that an advertisement for the play in the paper's Saturday Review section had failed to mention the actors' names at all.

"If Clwyd has a success, it might transfer to the West End where - surprise, surprise - the leading actors will be billed above the title," she wrote.

The actress said regional theatres received public subsidies but refused to accept that they should be run by commercial tactics.

"I am increasingly irritated by the pretension of these theatres coupled with their cry of poverty when they are shooting themselves in the foot," she wrote.

"Meanwhile, the actors are cast into anonymity and earn a pittance to boot.

"I should know: I have been there."

Dame Diana, who was born in Doncaster, may be best known for her TV shows like The Avengers and Mother Love, but she is also a veteran of the stage.

Her professional debut was in The Caucasian Chalk Circle in 1955, aged 17, and she has worked extensively with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Her theatre credits also include two Tom Stoppard leads - Ruth Carson in Night and Day and Dorothy Moore in Jumpers.

A nude scene with Keith Michell in Abelard and Heloise led to a notorious description of her as "built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses", by the crude and acerbic critic John Simon.

Meanwhile, Clwyd Theatr Cymru's The Cherry Orchard is about Madame Ranevskaya who, abandoned by her lover, returns from Paris to her family home. But the estate is in crisis. The cherry orchard no longer provides an income and, without money to even feed the servants, the family is facing bankruptcy.

The Cherry Orchard is described as "a poignant comedy of changing times" and it is Chekhov's last and greatest play.

It is directed by the Mold company's artistic director Hands, following his success with Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and triumph in New York with Memory by Jonathan Lichtenstein.

It reunites him with designer Johan Engels, who worked with him on The Seagull at the RSC in 1990.

The cast also features Robert Blythe, John Cording, Michelle Luther, Caryl Morgan, Thomas Padden, Robert J Page, Alex Parry, Maria Pride, Carol Royle and Johnson Willis.

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