WhatsOnStage Logo

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

WhatsOnStage logo
Ingmar Bergman, Simon Callow and David Mamet... Three heavyweights of the contemporary arts scene have recently had new books out. Admittedly, Bergman’s is published with a little help from Jenny Worton, Bergman having passed away three years ago, but this new adaptation of his Oscar-winning film, Through a Glass Darkly, was approved by the Swedish writer and director.

There's a small qualification with Callow, while we're at it, in that his ‘alternative autobiography’, My Life in Pieces, intersperses fresh insights with published articles and programme notes. And David Mamet? Hooray! His essays in Theatre are all new.

At least one other script as well as Bergman’s gets access to the heavyweight category, purely because it’s set in a boxing ring. Roy WilliamsSucker Punch has had rave reviews for its run at the Royal Court, where it's on for the rest of the month. And there’s a case to be made for the two compilations of nine plays (in total) centering on woman and politics, Women, Power & Politics... Then & Now, compiled by Indhu Rubasingham, too. So much for July being a quiet month of relaxation in the sun…

Laura Silverman
Book reviewer

Biographies and History

My Life in Pieces by Simon Callow
The blockbuster book of the month, Simon Callow's 'alternative autobiography' is, as you might expect, a lively and insightful 400-page read, in which he intersperses a chronological memoir of his love of theatre with pieces he has written for newspapers and programmes relevant to the topic in hand. This produces a curious, multi-dimensional effect. The mention of being taught Shakespeare at school, where understanding the plays was reduced to a formula for passing exams, provokes the inclusion of a piece Callow wrote on Shakespeare for a programme, while a later chapter includes a frank and witty piece for the Guardian in performing love scenes. Callow is currently on tour with his one-man show, Shakespeare: The Man from Stratford, which will take in four weeks at the Edinburgh Festival in August
Click here to read an exclusive extract from My Life in Pieces

Contemporary European Theatre Directors edited by Maria M. Delgado and Dan Rebellato Routledge, £20.99
Broad in scope, this scholarly study comprises 20 chapters on key European directors over the past 50 years, including Romeo Castellucci in Italy, Federico García Lorca in Spain, Thomas Ostermeier in Germany, Tadeusz Borowski in Poland and Katie Mitchell in the UK. While weighty and detailed, this work doesn't require too much intimidating background knowledge. Aleks Sierz's chapter on the UK's Declan Donnellan and his company Cheek by Jowl, for example, starts with a biography of the director, before going on to a lively Q&A style interview about his work. The chapter concludes with a short list of Donnellan's main productions. Delgado is a professor of theatre at Queen Mary, University of London. Rebellato is professor of contemporary theatre at Royal Holloway.


Through a Glass Darkly by Ingmar Bergman and Jenny Worton Nick Hern, £8.99
Ingmar Bergman was, of course, best known for his films – not least as screenwriter and director of this 1961 classic. No stranger to the stage, he was also director of the theatre in Malmo, of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm and of the Residentheater in Munich. It was up to Jenny Worton, artistic associate of the Almeida, to make this Oscar winner into a play. It is, apparently, the only play adaptation of the Swedish writer's film – and, more importantly, the only one approved by Bergman himself. Not to ruin it for first-timers, but the story tells of Karin, a wife, sister and daughter, whose boundaries between different realities melt and move. On holiday with her family, they try to take care of her, but events soon take over. You have until the end of the month to see the first run of the play at the Almeida. After – or before – that there's the film and this script.

The Late Middle Classes by Simon Gray
On at the Donmar Warehouse until July 17, this is a reissue of Simon Gray's melancholy-tinged comedy. Set in 1950s England, The Late Middle Classes pierces through the appearance of middle-class respectability, focusing on a 12-year-old boy called Holly, based on Gray's childhood self, Holly's parents' outwardly happy marriage and Holly's relationship with his piano teacher. An enthralling read, this is Gray at his sparkling best.

Women, Power & Politics... Then & Now, edited by Indhu Rubasingham Nick Hern, £9.99 each
The nine short plays commissioned for the Tricycle's latest acclaimed season, Women, Power & Politics, have been collected here in two neat volumes. Exploring family, femininity and capitalism, they offer indirect responses to why there aren't more women in government. Marie Jones, who wrote the Olivier-winning Stones in His Pockets, and Moira Buffini, who's behind the brilliant, issue-driven Welcome to Thebes on at the National this summer, have contributed to Then; while Bola Agbaje, who won an Olivier for her debut, Gone Too Far!, and Sue Townsend, of Adrian Mole fame, have written playlets for Now. Two fascinating collections. You can catch performances until July 17.

Sucker Punch by Roy Williams Methuen, £9.99
What was it like to be young and black in the Eighties? Roy Williams uses his own experience in this pacy new drama focusing on two black youths, which has just been on at the Royal Court. One aspect that Roy had to do a little more research into was boxing. The play focuses on this sport because many of the black role models of the time were boxers, rather than because of Roy's particular enthusiasm for fighting. He recalls once being at a punch-up at his local youth club when he was about 12 and thinking he'd never get into a fight again. Sucker Punch has received fantastic reviews at the Royal Court, where it's on until the end of the month.

Teachers and students

Theatre Games by Clive Barker
As Royal Holloway lecturer Dick McGraw notes in his introduction to this classic text, originally published more than 30 years ago, ' Theatre Games is not a compendium of exercises and games; it is part autobiography, part reflection on the needs and nature of actor training, and part training and teaching manual.' This is largely a theoretical book, examining problems the director and drama teacher Clive Barker encountered with students in his own work. Thus there are chapters on ways to use space and how to think about two things at once. There are, however, a a couple of chapters which outline exercises, including observations on the uses of children's games, such as grandmother's footsteps. More impressively, this edition comes with a DVD of Barker in practice, filmed by McGraw.

Theatre by David Mamet Faber and Faber, £12.99
Acting training is a form of psychoanalysis and, as such, is useless. You can either write a play or you can't – why bother with classes? The director tends to be a hindrance rather than a help, actors would be better off rehearsing alone. In 26 short sparky essays, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer and director justifies his self-confessed 'heretical' views. One of the most interesting chapters shows how our understanding of the interaction between the audience and the actor originated in a totalitarian regime, arguing against the Stanislavsky Method with its focus on the inner life of the character. “The Method and its obsession with the imagination allows the theatre to develop into solipsism,” warns Mamet. “For the actor and director here are interested with neither the text nor the audience, but only with themselves. They allow themselves, finally, to reject the demands of the stage, do what feels good and call it technique.” Refreshingly provocative and highly quotable.


Tagged in this Story