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

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A proliferation of books for students and practitioners have been published recently.

Vying for top place on the Whatsonstage.com shelves are the academic essays in the reliable Routledge Studies Reader series, this time on dance; a look at an expansive range of acting systems in Alison Hodge's Actor Training; a hands-on guide and insightful understanding of the body in Christian Darley's The Space to Move; and, finally, a manual to making even the most morose of people laugh in Eli Simon's The Art of Clowning.

Don't worry if you prefer to take a seat in the audience. We also have a trio of diverse scripts: Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill's A Life in Three Acts, on at the Soho Theatre until February 27; Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, though without Lionel Bart lyrics, sadly; and Dominic Cooke's adaptation of Arabian Nights, recently on in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Laura Silverman
Book reviewer


A Life in Three Acts by Bette Bourne and Mark Ravenhill
Methuen Drama, £8.99
Actor and gay rights activist Bette Bourne talks candidly to playwright Mark Ravenhill about his life in this 90-minute show, on at the Soho Theatre until February 27. In shaping his recorded conversations with the actor, Ravenhill, who also directs, has kept a natural-sounding flow to the speech patterns, with digressions and pauses indicated in the text. The result is a frank and often wildly funny script: a vivid look at Gay Lib, as well as a personal portrait of a radical actor. Bourne also reveals the reactions he has faced playing women on stage, including taking the part of Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Globe in 2004. A Life in Three Acts premiered at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh last year.

Arabian Nights adapted by Dominic Cooke
Nick Hern, £8.99
First seen at the Young Vic in 1998, the artistic director of the Royal Court oversaw his adaptation of Arabian Nights more recently for an eight-week run by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, closing a couple of weeks ago. This is a bewitching script of stories within stories that reads like poetry, including the fabulous tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. It's engaging and fast-paced.

Charles Dickens' David Copperfield adapted by Alastair Cording
Nick Hern, £8.99
Charles Dickens was said to approve of Andrew Halliday's adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel, staged as Little Em'ly in 1869. What would he make of this one? The reviews from Eastern Angles' staging of Cording's work, first in 1995 and then 2003, indicate he would have been pleased. 'All the drama, pathos and humour of David Copperfield's eventful young life are vividly realised in this enthralling adaptation,' said The Stage. If you're performing this script, there are ten main parts, including Betsey Trotwood, Mr Murdstone, Peggotty, and the young and older Davids, as well as 'good roles', say the notes, for 30 or more actors, if desired. If you're reading, the lines in this play are dramatic and colourful.

For Students, Actors and Directors

The Space to Move by Christian Darley
Nick Hern, £12.99
The late movement director Christian Darley described rehearsals as being like the inflation of a balloon. When the curtain rises, the balloon is released: a bad rehearsal, when actors don't show up, directors are late or there are no warm-ups... 'each is a little pin slow-puncturing the balloon'. Darley was concerned with creating the conditions for a good rehearsal: the right atmosphere, with the right space for actors and a company to move. In this guide – Darley wrote the draft just before she died in 1998 – she explains the importance of contact work, why voice involves the whole body and the unusual benefits of students lying down on the floor. This is an intelligent and highly perceptive book, with lucid descriptions, lively analogies and clearly explained exercises, understanding, above all, that 'Our bodies store events in a far more complex way than do our minds or our so-called memories' and the implications that arise. The Space to Move will be out on February 15.

Actor Training edited by Alison Hodge
Routledge, £21.99
Until the beginning of last century, Europe and Northern America, says Alison Hodge, lacked the systematic training traditions of the East, with its Balinese dance-drama and Indian Kathakali. Then along came Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavsky with his attempt to formulate a practical actor 'system'. This wide-ranging collection of essays, by British and American academics, compares the methods of more than 20 Western practitioners, chapter by chapter, from Stella Adler to Lee Strasberg. This edition has eight more practioners than the first version, published as Twentieth Century Actor Training a decade ago. Hodge is director of the international ensemble The Quick and the Dead.

The Routledge Dance Studies Reader edited by Alexandra Carter and Janet O'Shea
Routledge, £24.99
These essays for postgraduates and academics often couch complex, specialist areas in formal, scholarly terms – not that the content is always obscure or lacking in value. Contributions include a mind-bending philosophical study asking 'what is art?', an interesting analysis of Rennie Harris's Rome & Jewels (Romeo and Juliet), and an accessible first-hand account of choreographers Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton by dancer Annabel Farjeon. This is a significant reference book, if not an easy read.

The Art of Clowning by Eli Simon
Palgrave Macmillan, £17.99
To the uninitiated they seem to be merely messing around, doing what they want without a care in the world or a thought in their head, but a successful clown is no fool. Eli Simon's informative guide is both a delight to read in its celebratory tone and practical for anyone forging a clown identity – whether for a children's party or a comedic role. Everything's here – from nose etiquette, explained in a wonderful deadpan way, through to developing your clown voice by speaking gibberish. Frequent side headings makes for easy navigation, and I loved the expressive photos, including a clown trying to drink a watermelon. Just you try! Eli Simon is professor of acting at the University of California, Irvine, and part of clown troupe Clownzilla.


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