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Madonna, Gwyneth go head to head

Paltrow arrives recently at another London play first night  

LONDON, England -- U.S. superstars Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow go head to head this week -- but on the European side of the pond.

The two famous blondes will battle it out on the boards to see who will be crowned queen of London's theatreland.

The Tinseltown stars have been drafted in to give a box office boost to a theatre capital now set to rebound from the dearth of transatlantic tourists which followed September 11.

Paltrow and Madonna may be the best of friends -- the Oscar-winning actress flew to Scotland for the wedding of the pop icon -- but now that they are on stage in London at the same time, comparisons inevitably abound.

"Madge versus Gwynnie -- Who will be crowned Queen of the West End?" asked the Evening Standard newspaper as the pair embarked on preview runs for two hits already sold out before the first night.

Paltrow was first into the ring with "Proof," the Broadway hit play by American David Auburn in which she plays the daughter of a mad mathematical genius.

At the previews -- when a play is traditionally given an early run-through before the critics are admitted -- members of the audience described her to Reuters as "spell-binding" and "brilliant."

As she familiarised herself with the role in the lead-up to Wednesday's first night, security staff frisked the audience to ensure they were not carrying cameras.

On Monday, it was the turn of the famous material girl to launch previews of "Up for Grabs," a tale by Australian playwright David Williamson about an ambitious art dealer. Her first night is on May 23.

Matt Wolf, London theatre critic for Hollywood's Variety trade newspaper, thoroughly approved of all the hype.

Who's that West End girl? Madonna's London debut has sparked frenzy  

"Anything that makes theatre sexy and desirable is to be applauded," he told Reuters.

'Newer, younger audience'

Much of the attention on Madonna's appearances has been tabloid newspaper speculation on her alleged "prima donna" behaviour.

Among the rumours: Madonna was said to have demanded a raised stage to stop fans rushing her, staff were allegedly told not to make eye contact with the pop diva, and cast members were said to have been told not to use her nickname in Britain, "Madge."

But the press reports were dismissed by her spokeswoman as "absolute rubbish," while the producers said the star "has been utterly charming in rehearsals."

"Everyone is very relaxed, and she is mucking in like a trouper," they added, though the previews were delayed for three days.

This was put down by theatre officials to "technical difficulties."

"The production has developed into a complex synchronicity between moving set, sound, music and projection, and realising it in an older-style theatre has increased necessary technical time," said a spokesman.

But what attracts stars like Kevin Spacey, Nicole Kidman and Matt Damon to abandon their luxury film set trailers for pokey little theatre dressing rooms?

"It certainly isn't the money. They could make more in a half-hour photo shoot. It is the exoticism of London. If you make it in London, everyone back home is extremely impressed," said Variety's Wolf.

"The runs they are asked to do are very short, and that is definitely attractive. It is very hard in New York to do a play for five to six weeks," he added.

But are British actors up in arms about the American invasion? Not at all, says Martin Brown of the performers' union Equity.

"I think it is good to have such a buzz 'round the West End. It fills the theatres and gives good work to our members," he told Reuters. "It also has the potential of bringing a newer, younger audience in."

So who is going to be crowned London's U.S. drama queen?

Brown is ever diplomatic: "Who knows? I wish them both the best of luck."


• 'Mature' Madonna wows London
July 05, 2001

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