By Jeremy Miles
HAS the curse of Bournemouth's Pier theatre struck again? Tonight should have seen the opening of this year's programme of summer entertainment with the crime thriller Killing Time.
Instead the play, which was due to run for two weeks, has been cancelled and the theatre that some feel is jinxed will remain closed until later this month.
The last minute decision to axe the production came after the death of the mother of leading lady Briony McRoberts.
With no understudy to step into the shoes of the bereaved Take The High Road actress, producer Ian Dickens was left with no option but to cancel the drama's Pier run.
The 2004 summer season will now open on Tuesday July 27 with a two week run of the classic farce Wife Begins at Forty with David Griffin and Michael Tudor Barnes from EastEnders, Hi de Hi and Keeping Up Appearances. This loss of the latest season's opening show is just one of a catalogue of problems that have dogged productions and their casts at the theatre in recent years.
Four years ago the farce No Sex Please We're British was axed midway though a disastrously badly attended summer run. Then two years ago actor Gareth Hunt had to be rushed to hospital after collapsing on stage during a performance of the Alan Ayckbourn play Absurd Person Singular. Horrified members of the cast and audience were convinced he had suffered a heart attack or stroke.
Fellow cast member Robert Beck pleaded from the footlights "Is there a doctor in the house?" as the curtain was brought down and an ambulance called. In fact one-time New Avengers star Hunt had suffered an adverse reaction to prescription medication.
At the end of August he is due to return to the theatre for the first time since his dramatic exit when he appears in the Francis Durbridge thriller The Gentle Hook. Once again Robert Beck, best remembered from Brookside, is also in the cast.
But the year 2002 certainly didn't mark the end of the Pier's run of bad luck.
Last year's season was thrown into turmoil when actress Ruth Madoc was taken ill days before the opening of a production of Sailor Beware.
As Madoc left the show, only a last minute reshuffle of cast and the eventual hiring of a new actress succeeded in limiting the damage.
Only last month two productions, a children's show Teddy Bears Picnic and The Magnificent Music Hall, had to be cancelled because of poor ticket sales.
Ironically actress and producer Jan Hunt who staged both productions was also a member of the cast of the ill-fated No Sex Please We're British.
Both shows are however on again this coming Sunday. And it was another member of that cast, the Hi-de-Hi actor Barry Howard who coined the phrase 'the curse of the pier'.
The locally-based entertainer has mixed memories of the theatre going back over 40 years.
Howard, 67, who first appeared at the theatre when he was in his 20s, was in a cast with the late comedian Freddie Frinton when he suffered a heart attack.
He was also working at the Pier with comedy actor Mr Pastry who was hospitalised with a vascular spasm.
Others he has worked with at the theatre include Terry Scott and Marti Caine, both of whom died soon afterwards.
For tickets and further information about the Pier Season call 0870 111 3000.