16 theatrical books to read during the ongoing lockdown

Review our list of stagey reads to keep you engrossed

A selection of books on offer
A selection of books on offer

There are so many great stagey things being streamed online; from Netflix to Amazon Prime to BBC iPlayer – plus the launch of Disney Plus and National Theatre at Home – to a wide variety of concerts and theatre shows, all at your fingertips. But let's not forget the original entertainment medium – the book. Find out some of our literary recommendations that will give you that little theatrical tipple during lockdown.

Stephen Sondheim: a life – Meryle Secrest

Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Published back in 1999, this informative book deep-dives into the extraordinary life of this legendary composer-lyricist. Written by the biographer of Leonard Bernstein and Frank Lloyd Wright (so it's got to be good), it draws on her conversations with Sondheim, plus interviews and examines the history of his iconic musicals. Buy it here

London Theatres – Michael Coveney

So this might be a coffee table book of sorts, but it is certainly a must for fans of the stage. Featuring Peter Dazeley's breathtaking photographs, journey through auditoriums, backstage and front of house, as you discover the people and productions that have defined each theatre – it really is something. Buy it here

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey – Jody Revenson

The current West End cast of The Cursed Child
The current West End cast of The Cursed Child
© Manuel Harlan

The multi-award-winning play has wowed audiences with its astounding illusions and visuals – whether you're a self-proclaimed Potter fan or not. Go behind-the-scenes with this hugely detailed book that features stunning pictures and little-known tidbits, and find out how this global smash-hit was made! Buy it here

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Acting (But Were Afraid To Ask, Dear) and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Going to the Theatre (But Were Too Sloshed to Ask, Dear) – West End Producer

West End Producer
West End Producer
© Matt Crockett

This might technically be a two-for-one, but there is no way we could choose between these two hilarious takes on the theatre industry. Expect West End Producer's notorious on-the-nose style with some very amusing commentary and footnotes – these books are the perfect tonic for the theatre blues. Buy it here

Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel – Val Emmich

For those yearning for a good bit of fiction to get their teeth into, this stage-to-page version of the WhatsOnStage Award-winning musical is the perfect pick. Written in collaboration with musical makers Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it must be one of the few where the book came after the show… Buy it here

Balancing Acts – Nicholas Hytner

Get the inside scoop of one of the world's greatest theatres in this prize-winning book, directly from the man who was at the helm for 12 years. From unsuspecting failures to smash-hit successes, open the doors to the National Theatre's epic history and find out just what it takes to create theatre that stands the test of time. Buy it here

Get Me the Urgent Biscuits: An Assistant's Adventures in Theatreland – Sweetpea Slight

Thelma Holt
Thelma Holt
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

We cannot recommend this one enough – a hilarious and exhilarating documentation of being assistant to maverick theatre producer Thelma Holt during the 1980s. Collaborator with the National Theatre and Peter Hall Company to name but a few, this charming book on Holt is a coming-of-age story combined with wonderful true theatre stories. Buy it here

Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story – DK

Another coffee table-style book, but this time with some glorious glossy pictures of the world's greatest musicals! Find out about your favourites in this truly insightful and in-depth guide – there is literally not a musical missing from its pages, and with a foreword by recent WhatsOnStage Awards host Elaine Paige, what more could you want? Buy it here

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years – Julie Andrews

On the subject of legendary musical icons, this autobiography from the soprano songbird is a moving tale of her rise from difficult childhood to acclaimed performer. Recounting her roles in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, to name but a few, it highlights the incredible moments that catapulted her to worldwide fame. Buy it here

Year of the Mad King: The Lear Diaries – Antony Sher

Antony Sher in King Lear
Antony Sher in King Lear
© Ellie Kuttz

Famed Shakespeare actor Antony Sher documents the transformation of his career in this truly thrilling novel that pinpoints his landmark 1982 performance as the Fool in King Lear at the RSC, later returning to land the titular role in 2016. A unique insight into process, rehearsal and performance, it's a novel that you will want to read over and over. Buy it here

So You Want to Be a Theatre Producer? – James Seabright

For all those budding Cameron Mackintosh's out there, this is an essential guide to theatre production at every level. From creating Fringe pieces to whirlwind West End hits, this brilliantly informative book takes you through every stage of what it takes to produce the perfect performance.
Buy it here

Twenty Theatres to See Before You Die – Amber Massie-Blomfield

History fanatic? This thrilling collection presents unexpected theatres across Britain – from rural communities to astonishing playhouses in cities, as well as ruins, haunted halls, extremely unusual buildings and, as the Amazon description reads "a theatre that is not there at all". Sounds interesting? We think so! Buy it here

A Dancer in Wartime: One Girl's Journey from the Blitz to Sadler's Wells – Gillian Lynne

London Gillian Lynne (Choreographer) during the launch for Cats at the London Palladium, London, England on 6th July 2014.
Gillian Lynne
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Any true theatre fan has to acknowledge the legend that was Dame Gillian Lynne – prominent choreographer of Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and several more mega musicals. Dive into this extraordinary memoir about her early dance classes to an astonishing West End career. Buy it here

Unmasked – Andrew Lloyd Webber

Sir Lloyd Webber is the next obvious choice for an autobiography that will keep you engrossed. Besides the fact that there are lots and lots (and lots) of pages, there are some fascinating stories about his legendary career, including little-known anecdotes, candid tales and… hot gossip.

Buy it here

The Golden Rules of Acting – Andy Nyman

Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

An absolute must for any aspiring performer, this brilliant bible of inside knowledge comes directly from one of the most acclaimed actors in the industry. Packed with support, advice and encouragement, it's an instructive but quick-witted guide to conquering your career.

Buy it here

Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway – Michael Riedel

We conclude with this powerhouse book about New York theatre, which is a rich and informative take on the rise, fall and redemption of theatre on Broadway, including its biggest shows and brightest stars, as well as the drama behind the curtains. It's a complete must-read for anyone who would call themselves a theatre fan. Buy it here

But wait, there's more! Are your shelves already packed with these books? Here are more suggestions to get you started:

Dramatic Exchanges: Letters of the National Theatre
Keep On Keeping On – Alan Bennett
Mainly on Directing – Arthur Laurents
Hamilton: The Revolution – Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
The Untold Stories of Broadway – Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Sense of Occasion – Harold Prince
The Rules of Acting – Michael Simkins
The Empty Space – Peter Brook
Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical – Stacey Wolf

What will you read next?