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Dandy Dick - A Day at the Races With ATG

Patricia Hodge is used to backing a winner. In a private enclosure at 
Brighton Racecourse, the veteran purveyor of cut-glass Englishness on 
stage and screen holds court at a large round table with her winnings 
placed carefully in front of her. As one of the guests of honour at the 
inaugural Dandy Dick Theatre Royal Brighton Fillies' 
Handicap Stakes, Hodge not only got to select the best looking horse 
before the race and present the trophy to the winner afterwards, along 
with Nicholas Le Prevost, her co-star in the play that gave the race 
its name and the rest of the cast, she even managed to have a flutter 
herself. That a handsome steed named National Hope was favoured by 
Hodge in all three of her pursuits may suggest some kind of insider 
trading, but she'll never be a millionaire.

Eleven pounds!” Hodge says proudly of her sudden windfall, echoing her 
role as the errant sister who puts temptation into the path of her 
upright Vicar brother in Arthur Wing Pinero's classic comedy, which was 
actually written in Brighton in 1887. Dandy Dick the first project out 
of the traps for a brand new partnership between Ambassadors Theatre 
Group and Brighton's Theatre Royal, as well some other theatres who 
could lay claim to being the grandest in the land. This includes the 
already ATG-run Theatre Royal, Glasgow, where the show tours to next 
month. Given the ambition of such a venture from the UK's  largest 
commercial theatre operators, Hodge clearly isn't the only one taking a 

ATG's establishment of Theatre Royal Brighton Productions is an 
initiative designed to develop quality commercial theatre outwith 
London in a way that can also increase the quality and profile of 
regional touring beyond the more obvious blockbusters that can 
sometimes clog up the circuit. Led by Christopher Luscombe, who will 
direct Dandy Dick, the organisation has also named Maria Aitken and 
Philip Franks as associate directors. Both have strong track records in 
Scotland, with Aitken appearing at the Citizens Theatre in some of the 
theatre's most sumptuous productions overseen by Philip Prowse, while 
Franks directed several shows at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre.

To celebrate, the entire Dandy Dick cast and crew have been whisked off 
on what turns out to be a glorious if not exactly lucrative day at the 
races. On what is only the second day that the company has been 
together, such a gathering, trophies and high tea included, is part 
marketing tool, part bonding exercise. On the coach, everyone is all 
dressed up in their posh frock finery. All, that is, except ATG 
Executive Producer and Edinburgh University graduate Adam Speers, who, 
in the absence of ATG's ebullient joint chief executive and creative 
director Howard Panter, is clearly going for a Method approach for the 
occasion by sporting his tie at half-mast while clutching onto a 
rolled-up copy of the Racing Post.

The Theatre Royal in Brighton has such a heritage, and we want to 
treat that with respect,” says Speers. “We also want to take west end 
level work out to the regions. There is an  appetite for that, and 
there is an appetite for fun theatre, in Glasgow and Edinburgh as much 
as anywhere else.”

In terms of a flagship production, Dandy Dick couldn't be better.

I've wanted to do Dandy Dick for some time, but the fact that it was 
written in Brighton is too good to be true,” says Luscombe, “so it's 
perfect to launch a partnership like this. Classic plays and classic 
comedy are my bag, and the fact that play might not be that well known 
is even better.”

As Franks observes, “ATG are trying to do something on a par with what 
Peter Hall did in Bath, turning around a rather sleepy receiving house 
into one of the most dynamic producing houses around. I've spent the 
last six years working in Chichester, and the same thing's happened 
there. I'd like to be part of something that people can go to on the 
strength of its name and reputation alone. That way you can take risks. 
In hard times ambition and risk are the way to go rather than 
conservatism. Look what happened with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 
the 1980s. There were cuts all over the place, so they did a huge thing 
like Nicholas Nickleby. I'd like to think we can do something at that 

While Franks looks set to work on the third show as part of this new 
partnership, other commitments in America where she spends much of her 
time these days mean Aitken won't be directing a full show until autumn 
2013. In the meantime she will spend two or three weeks this coming 
September doing workshops and readings of little-know classics which 
may be developed into full productions.

This sort of thing happens a lot in America,” Aitken explains, “but 
not that much in the UK. It's good to work informally, with no real end 
in sight, and it's good to be in something at the very beginning.”

One of the scripts Aitken will be looking at is a stage version of 
Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel set in a funeral parlour, The Loved One. 
In Aitken's eyes, this is the sort of work that epitomises ATG/Theatre 
Royal Brighton Productions.

It's ambitious,” she says. “We want to choose plays which aren't 
obvious crowd-pleasers, but which turn out to be so. There's a moral 
reason for touring works like this as well as a commercial one, because 
rep theatres don't exist in the way that they used to.”

Aitken and Franks aren't the only Scots connections on the Dandy Dick 
company. Long before Betrayal, the Life and Loves of a She Devil and 
now a regular TV role in Miranda, Hodge's stage career began in 1971 at 
Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre in an early Howard Barker play, No One Was 
Saved. Hodge's Dandy Dick co-star Le Prevost, meanwhile, was recently 
seen in the National Theatre of Scotland's production of Abi Morgan's 
play, 27.

Further down the Dandy Dick cast is Jennifer Rhodes, a recent graduate 
of Glasgow Royal Conservatoire's Musical Theatre course. Rhodes' career 
began at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh, where she appeared in Faust and 
Man of La Mancha before appearing in two Dave Anderson shows at Oran 
Mor, A Walk in the Park and Tir Na Nog.. More recently Rhodes did a 
season at Pitlochry Festival Theatre, where she may have appeared in 
Bus Stop and An ideal Husband, but probably didn't win 3.20 as she does 
at Brighton Races. In Dandy Dick, Rhodes plays Sheba, “the spoilt and 
really rather silly younger daughter of the Manse,” as she puts it.

As the mastermind, behind ATG's new partnership with Theatre Royal 
Brighton Productions, Howard Panter's aims are simple.

It's about taking quality productions of classic plays that might not 
have been performed for some time to great cities,” he says. “We're 
trying to reinvigorate regional touring theatre beyond what's become a 
very London-centric scene.”

If Panter is taking a gamble, then the bug is clearly catching.

I keep using these racing analogies,” Hodge says, her winnings still 
in front of her after expounding on the value of working on great 
classical plays beyond Shakespeare, Shaw and co. “So if you find one, 
you should run with it,” is her parting shot before being whisked off 
to the winners enclosure to have her picture taken with a horse. If 
Dandy Dick and ATG's new partnership with Theatre Royal Brighton 
Productions pays off, this is something Hodge is probably going to have 
to get used to.

Dandy Dick, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, August 7th-11th

The Herald, July 10th 2012


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