Worth a Read: Theatre Books Round-up - Jul 2009Date: 15 July 2009
This month’s new books are full of surprises. Dawn French’s memoir, Dear Fatty, now out in paperback, reveals the comic’s talent for the serious, while there’s been a possible publishing first: a guide for actors on how to gatecrash an audition. It’s by Richard Evans, the casting director of The Rat Pack in the West End. Does he know what he’s let himself in for? I should add that Evans also gives some sensible advice on what to do when you get invited to an audition. We’ve conveniently featured two collections of Shakespearean monologues so you can test his techniques.
For children, we have the greatest surprise yet: a… argh!.. monster under the bed. The script of Kevin Dyer’s comedy, The Monster Under the Bed, currently on at the Polka Theatre, has a poignant message about friendship and overcoming fear, hiding under the boisterous colour of the performance. Summer entertainment for all.
Dear Fatty by Dawn French
Dawn French gives us a fascinating glimpse of her serious side in this collection of affectionate and chatty fictional letters to her loved ones. Most moving are those to her dead father, who committed suicide when she was 19; her husband Lenny Henry, who had an affair; and her daughter Billie, whom she adopted after unsuccessful IVF treatment. Plus, there are those to Jennifer Saunders: the ‘Fatty’ of the title. The frivolous tone of her comic missives to Madonna, who has continually refused to appear with her; David Cassidy, a teenage crush; and George Clooney, whom she jokingly asks to leave her alone keeps the biography buoyant - their silliness is typical French.
Drury Lane to Dimapur by Doreen Hawkins
I hadn’t heard of Hawkins, but I was drawn to the blurb on this book jacket, which included praise from Lauren Bacall (yes, yes, I’d heard of her). ‘Imagine,’ writes Bacall, ‘after 60 years of friendship and the shared facts of our lives, Doreen Hawkins now reveals a lifetime of secrets. Wow is all I can say!’ Hawkins, it transpires, was part of the first troops to be posted abroad during World War II to perform plays. She travelled (often in a state of excitement) from England to West Africa to India, where she met her future husband Jack, who became a famous film star in the Fifties, appearing in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Ben-Hur. This is Doreen’s enchanting wartime tale, full of heart-warming, intimate memories written with humour, warmth and plenty of pep. There are some wonderfully nostalgic black and white photos, too.
Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Campbell’s debut play, The Pride, won the Laurence Olivier Award and the Critics’ Circle Award after its run at the Royal Court last November. Apologia, on at Bush Theatre in West London until July 18, has also received rave reviews. It’s a sharp, sympathy-twisting satire centred on a clash between parenting and political struggle.
Kristin Miller, now in her sixties, is a leading art historian. Yet as a young mother, she was a passionate Left-wing campaigner, who stormed the Parisian barricades in 1968. Politics having also been her priority, she fails to mention her two children in her memoir. At her birthday dinner her now grown-up sons confront her with her neglect, bringing the past uncomfortably into the present. As a script, Apologia is word perfect: it’s acutely perceptive about family relationships and feminism, while often being surprisingly funny.
The Monster Under the Bed by Kevin Dyer
This energetic comedy for six to 11-year-olds is on at the Polka Theatre in South-West London until July 25. The script, unillustrated yet set in eye-friendly size text for easy following, will provide lots of raucous chuckles after the show. The play is about a boy called Ben, whose dad, a soldier, gives him a pair of binoculars before going off to war. When Ben’s best friend Vince takes them, Ben swaps places with a monster to get them back and his day turns into a disaster. Drawing on The Borrowers and Roald Dahl’s BFG, this is an imaginative new work from a diverse and experienced writer. Dyer’s The Bomb, about the 1984 IRA Brighton explosion, won an Arts Council award.
Theatre Studies by Kenneth Pickering and Mark Woolgar
This is one of those all-encompassing and highly accessible companions to undergraduate and diploma courses that you can tell will be covered with highlighter marks and coffee stains by students within a week. Its super-neat layout – lots of white space, bold headings and bullet points – makes it a great introduction and handy for revision. Clear and informative, Pickering and Woolgar outline challenges in defining theatre, summarise the ideas of key practitioners, and provide reassuring advice on how to undertake a research project. I know this is always said by tutors, but you’ll need to follow up the suggested reading lists and at least consider the ‘topics for discussion’ at the end of each chapter for any depth. This, however, is an excellent start. An accompanying website is due to go live in September.
Collaboration in Theatre by Rob Roznowski and Kirk Domer
If you’re a director or designer, you might want to avoid drama before the opening night. Roznowski, a director, and Domer, a set designer, are department heads at Michigan State University, and explain how to do just that in this part-academic, part-practical guide. Their formal language takes a bit of getting used to, but the main points are accompanied by lively banter. I particularly enjoyed this quick-fire exchange to illustrate poor communication:
Director: What if we just put this there?
Their innovative solution looks promising…
Performance Affects by James Thompson
It’s not exactly a light read, but this re-evaluation of how theatre affects people in war zones is thought-provoking and assiduously researched. An academic at Manchester University, Thompson argues that applied theatre (plays produced in marginalised communities or unconventional contexts, such as hospitals or prisons) should focus less on the utility of the performances in the ‘truths’ they reveal, and more on the pleasure and relationships created in actually bringing the shows about. It is the latter, he suggests, that stimulates social change. Drawing on his own workshops in Sri Lanka in 2000 and research in Rwandan prisons, Thompson builds a moving and often disturbing picture of how theatre can be used for political ends.
Shakespeare Monologues for Men/Women edited by Luke Dixon
Two collections of Shakespeare’s speeches – 50 for men and 50 for women – are the latest additions to the popular series of Good Audition Guides. Sub-divided into histories and comedies, with characters also listed by age and status, navigation is easy, and brief notes beside each extract about its context are a huge help. The selection for women contains plenty of classics, such as Portia’s Quality of Mercy speech in The Merchant of Venice; while the monologue for men selected from this play is less well-known: it’s Shylock’s debate about whether he, ‘a cur’, should lend Antonio money. The inclusion of some of Shakespeare’s more overlooked pieces is refreshing. These titles make engaging reading for any literature student, or Bard lover, performers or not.
To buy the books for £7.75 each (free UK p&p), go to www.nickhernbooks.co.uk and enter ‘WOS0709’ in the Notes & Comments box at checkout before September 30, 2009. The discount will be applied when your payment is processed.
Auditions by Richard Evans
Covering almost all situations from what to do if you’re dyslexic to how to audition in a cupboard (it’s not inconceivable, apparently), Evans – who’s been a casting director for the past 20 years and worked on the latest Rat Pack in the West End – comes across as personable and enthusiastic. While much of his advice, such as research the part you want and think positively, is obvious, Evans is equally confident on more controversial ground. He devotes a chapter, for example, to gatecrashing: ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. And in another on what to wear, he recommends slipping on a wedding ring if the character you’re going for is married, adding ‘make sure it doesn’t turn your finger green’ (presumably if it’s too tight). His health warning is at least sensible, unless you want to play Shrek. No, really this guide is reassuringly good.