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Worth a Read: Theatre Books Round-up - Nov 2010

By • West End
This month we combine the old with the new. The output from the stage veterans includes a biography of producer Michael Codron, now 80, entitled Putting it On, and an autobiography by actor Ron Moody, now 86, called A Still Untitled (not Quite) Autobiography. Both Codron, through his co-writer Alan Strachan, and Moody excel at name-dropping (in Codron's case, it's Stoppard and Pinter; in Moody's, it's Frankie Howerd and Noel Coward), although Moody is much better at scandal, as his diary excerpts about the feuds within the Oliver! cast reveal. Moody, you will recall, originated the role of Fagin in Lionel Bart's musical on stage and screen.

The output from the names to watch includes Tribes by Nina Raine, whose debut drama Rabbit, on four years ago at the Royal Court, won a Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright; and Love Love Love by Mike Bartlett, who had one of his plays, Earthquakes in London, staged at the National this year. At the time, he was under 30.

We couldn't be so crude as to pit the younger team against the older, so we're just going to have to recommend you go for the whole lot.

Laura Silverman Book reviewer


Memoirs, Biographies and History

Putting it On by Michael Codron and Alan Strachan Duckworth
This biography of producer Michael Codron, written by the director Alan Strachan, does not hold back on names. Tom Stoppard and Richard Briers were among the good and the great at the launch of the book last month, and within its pages you will find most of the major British dramatists of the past half-century: from Alan Ayckbourn to Harold Pinter. Codron, via Strachan, is not, however, name-dropping for the sake of it. Starting his career in 1956, Codron, now 80, has produced almost 200 West End shows. This 416-page hardback is a fascinating account of his life and work, although, as you'd expect from a friend (he and Strachan are close), the content and tone are better on praise and information than conflict and gossip.

A Still Untitled (not Quite) Autobiography by Ron Moody JR Books, £18.99
Picture Fagin in Oliver! That's Ron Moody. It was Moody, now 86, who was the first Fagin in the West End, on Broadway in 1984 and on screen. There's a hefty chunk of this frank and sharply written autobiography devoted to Moody's part in Lionel Bart's musical, starting with a brilliantly amusing anecdote about his first performances in the part in 1960 at the Wimbledon Theatre. Fagin, Moody reveals, might look like he's counting on his fingers during the song Reviewing the Situation, but really Moody is reading keywords to help him remember the order of the verses. The chapters bcome increasingly revelatory and scandalous. Later Moody tells us, through diary excerpts, what Bart thought of his performance, with Moody calling Bart a 'bumptious little nit'. There's also a great section on Moody's years at LSE, from 1948 to 1953, when he was studying for a doctorate in sociology, including an intimate encounter with Frankie Howerd.


Scripts

The Lady from the Sea by Henrik Ibsen, a version by David Eldridge Methuen
Any more Ibsen adaptations and playwright David Eldridge (Market Boy, Under the Blue Sky) will get a reputation. First it was The Wild Duck for the Donmar in 2006; now it’s The Lady from the Sea. Eldridge was behind the recent production of Ibsen’s rarely performed drama at the Manchester Royal Exchange, which received great reviews. The play, one of Ibsen’s later works, focuses on a lighthouse-keeper’s daughter called Ellida whose marriage is disrupted when a past love (a sailor) re-appears in her life after ten years. Expect all the typical Ibsen themes – duty, responsibility and the power of women – plus, a surprising amount of humour and hope.

Love Love Love by Mike Bartlett Methuen, £8.99
Like Mike Bartlett’s previous work, Earthquakes in London, which was on at the National over the summer, his new play zooms in on the idea of baby-boomers in battle with the current generation. “I suppose you find a question in one play and try to answer it in another,” says Bartlett. “It will make accusations against the older crowd, but the baby boomers will answer back because, you see, I think they’ve got a case to make against us.” Love Love Love, which takes its title from the Beatles All You Need is Love, follows a couple’s 40-year relationship from getting together as students in 1967 to their life in retirement in 2011. The dialogue is delicate, witty and brilliant. Bartlett’s play, Cock, won an Olivier earlier this year. Love Love Love is on at the Theatre Royal, Bath until November 20, and transfers to the Curve, Leicester next March.

Tribes by Nina Raine Nick Hern
Nina Raine won the Evening Standard Award and Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright for her debut, Rabbit, in 2006, and her second, Tribes, which has just closed at the Royal Court, has been received similar acclaim (as far as reviews, if not accolades, go). Zooming in on a deaf boy with an argumentative family, Tribes is an edgy, and often funny, exploration of the desire for belonging and the limits of communication. For research, Raine learnt sign language and 'realised how much we express our personality through the way we speak'. The title comes from her perception of a typical family as 'an infighting tribe, but intensely loyal'. As for herself, Raine hates conflict: 'I'm quite a coward,' she said recently, I'll do anything to avoid an argument.'

First Person Shooter by Paul Jenkins Nick Hern, £8.99
As a scriptwriter for EastEnders and Casualty, Paul Jenkins must be steeped in storylines about fractious families and life-threatening situations. His most recent play, which was on at Birmingham Rep earlier this autumn, puts both these elements in a more fantastical context. The starting point, though, is real: the narrative was inspired by Jenkins' experience growing up in the shadow of the Cold War in the Eighties in the Malvern Hills. 'The Malvern Hills are the largest lump of granite in the UK,' he has said, 'which means they’re good for tunnelling. So there were rumours about spy tunnels running underneath the hills. All kinds of mad stories.' Then, riding on the back of this feeling of paranoia, Jenkins goes into the world of fantasy. The play focuses on a teenage computer game addict, Adrian, who loves shooter games. The most effective way to communicate with him, reasons his exasperated mother, is to hack into his military games: a method which, erm, backfires. Jenkins does a good job here of translating an ambitious sci-fi concept on to paper, although you'll have to imagine the computer graphics and gore of warfare yourself.


For teachers

Drama Games for Those Who Like to Say No by Chris Johnston Nick Hern
A resource for teachers and community leaders, this slim, clearly laid-out book is aimed at rebellious and difficult youth groups – not necessarily would-be actors. The 90 games and exercises are neatly divided into sections, starting with a chunk to encourage awkward charges to participate in anything at all, and progressing to pages of role-plays aimed at teaching them how to manage their emotions and negotiate. Having worked with prisoners, children, actors and pensions, Chris Johnston is well-positioned as the book’s compiler and writer. This practical guide looks promising.


General

Shakespeare on Stage by Julian Curry Nick Hern, £14.99
Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren are among the 13 starry contributors to this anthology, in which Julian Curry (Claude Erskine-Brown in Rumpole of the Bailey) interviews actors about one of the Shakespearean roles they have played. For McKellen, it's Macbeth; for Mirren, it's Cleopatra. The question-and-answer format in which the interviews have been laid out hints at the character of the actor as much as their role. Jude Law, for example, comes across as a little defensive in discussing Hamlet, as the following exchange suggests. Curry: 'The play's a revenge drama and it's a psychological thriller... What else is it about?' Law: 'You tell me. God, it's about everything, isn't it?' While, Dame Judi Dench adopts a confident, playful tone in talking about Juliet. One of her funniest memories is of a performance when she – as the star-crossed lover – delivers the line: 'Where is my father and my mother?' Her dad, who had come down from York to see the play that night, shouted out: 'Here we are, darling, in row H!'. 'He was completely carried away,' recalls Dench.


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