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Women Rule the London Stage This Fall


LONDON — From Glenn Close and Elaine Stritch to Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, it is suddenly ladies' night on the London stage.

The new fall season brought the London stage debut of Glenn Close, who opened Tuesday at the Royal National's Lyttelton Theatre in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Stritch opened Wednesday at the Old Vic in her hit solo show.

Meanwhile, Smith and Dench are paired in "The Breath of Life." It is their first play together since 1959. David Hare's two-character drama, directed by Howard Davies, opens Tuesday at the Theater Royal, Haymarket.

Tennessee Williams' "Streetcar," at the Lyttelton Theatre, casts Close, 55, as Blanche DuBois, a character who, as written, is a quarter-century younger.

But director Trevor Nunn defended the casting of Close, whom Nunn guided toward a Tony Award in 1995 in the musical "Sunset Boulevard."

Close, said Nunn, "is in my view a great actress, on both screen and stage, and in common with other great actresses, she is ageless." The public presumably agrees: The entire eight-week run sold out well before the first preview.

"I don't feel in competition with anybody," Close said about the role, which has been performed on stage by Jessica Tandy, Rosemary Harris and Jessica Lange, among many others, and Vivien Leigh on screen.

Broadway veteran Stritch has no one to compete with except herself in "Elaine Stritch at Liberty." But in London, where Stritch isn't known to the general public, there were some raised eyebrows at the decision to charge close to $80 a ticket--a hefty price for the West End.

Meanwhile, Brenda Blethyn, 56, the veteran actress who graduated to film stardom in recent years with her Academy Award-nominated performances in "Secrets and Lies" and "Little Voice," is back on stage for the first time in six years, playing the title role in "Mrs. Warren's Profession." "I was getting withdrawal symptoms," she said of her theater absence. The revival of George Bernard Shaw's play opened Thursday at the Strand Theater.

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