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

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This month we throw the director into the spotlight with a small heap of practical guides, including John Caird's hefty Theatre Craft: A Director's Practical Companion from A to Z and the slimmer Notes on Directing: 130 Lessons in Leadership from the Director's Chair by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich.

In the slot for scripts, we have a shiny new edition of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, accompanied by an introduction by Philip Kolin, a world authority on the playwright. For a lighter read, we have Lynda Bellingham's Lost and Found, in which the All Creatures Great and Small star reveals all about her personal life. On to her third marriage, Lynda hopes she's now – ahem – directing her path to love.

Laura Silverman
Book reviewer


Lost and Found by Lynda Bellingham
Ebury, £17.99
By most accounts, the Loose Women panelist has had a pretty successful career as Helen Herriott in All Creatures Great and Small on screen, acting in Calendar Girls on stage and even starring in Dancing on Ice. But despite the starry names in these pages, including Alison Steadman, Maureen Lipman and Tom Cruise (she once used his dressing room), this autobiography is really a personal memoir, focusing on Lynda's private life. In intimate detail, the actress reveals her search for love through rocky relationships and three marriages. Her first marriage, she says, lasted just a year and was horribly destructive. Her second, to an Italian, was happier on the outside – to the public, she had become known as 'the nation's mum' from the Oxo ads – but was fraught with problems. And her third? A year into her current marriage, to Michael Pattermore, when writing this book, Lynda says she is finally happy. Lost and Found is a warm tale of yearning, betrayal and love.


Disconnect by Anupama Chandrasekhar
Nick Hern, £8.99
The Chennai-based writer reveals the disconnections between the high-tech West and a coastal Indian village, by getting inside a call centre. While the staff chase payments, the Americans on the other end of the phone are in debt. But the staff have two lives. They might have Western names and appear confident on the line, but when they leave the office, they're just young boys, insecure in love and torn between the branding they assume for work and the traditions of their home life. Disconnect, which is on at the Royal Court until 20 March and then transfers to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre (part of the Court’s Theatre Local initiative) from 31 March until 3 April, has been well received. If you can't make it – it's returns only at the Court – you could at least start with the script.

Dunsinane by David Greig
Faber and Faber, £9.99
Exercising a bit of poetic licence on the Shakespearean original, the Scottish playwright has Lady M surviving Macbeth in his sequel. In this lively new follow-up, we're still very much in Scotland, but Greig draws parallels between the English occupation there in the 11th century and the modern situation in Afghanistan. Dramatic battle scenes in the fight for power and lots of comic detail in the English soldiers' homesickness make this a swift and engaging read. Dunsinane has just finished its run with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Hampstead Theatre.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, edited by Philip C Kolin
Methuen, £9.99
The story of a family in crisis in the deep American South gathering for Big Daddy Pollitt's birthday has garnered acclaimed reviews in its current run at the West End’s Novello Theatre (where it finishes on until 10 April), but when the play opened on Broadway in 1955, it was banned in Britain for its heady cocktail of sex, greed, frustration and betrayal. US professor Philip Kolin, “an international authority on the works of Tennessee Williams”, has written seven books and more than 50 scholarly articles on the playwright. His introduction to the plot, characters and language of the play in this student edition of the work is lively and informative.

For actors & directors

The Lee Strasberg Notes edited by Lola Cohen
Routledge, £14.99
The late American director and acting teacher Lee Strasberg built on the work of Russian director Konstantin Stanislavski. Lola Cohen, a former pupil, went on to teach at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute in New York and LA for 23 years. Cohen has now compiled unpublished transcripts of Strasberg's classes on acting, directing and Shakespeare. As well as practical explanations of class exercises, including those to develop sense memory, there are dozens of scene critiques – Strasberg's observations on plays after students had performed them – ranging from Noel Coward's Private Lives to August Strindberg's Miss Julie. This book is a unique insight into Strasberg's teaching work and stance on theatre.

Illustrated Theatre Production Guide by John Holloway
Focal Press, £22.99
This is a large and pretty technical book aimed at the professional, giving all the nuts and bolts of sets and design. From rigging systems to dimmers, the American professor and technical director explains the physics of production with plenty of helpful annotated diagrams and photos. There are boxes with hints to construct flat-packed scenery and even tips about how to be environmentally-friendly in what materials you choose and how you use them. The first edition of this book came out in 2002.

Theatre Craft by John Caird
Faber £22.50
There's a fabulous endorsement by Judi Dench on the cover of this guide by honorary associate director of the RSC, John Caird. “This book is written with such humour and common sense that I may have to carry it around with me all the time,” she's said. Get hold of this book and you'll see that Dame Judi will need either a giant's handbag or a giant's strength to carry her handbag to fulfil this ambition. For at 800 pages, this work's a deadweight. It is, however, amazingly absorbing and easy to read. Starting with Abstraction, “the freedom from a representational depiction of reality”, Caird's director's companion has sections on everything from complimentary tickets and denouement, and lyricists to scene changes, all the way until the last entry, where he stops at work-through, “a slow and thorough investigation of an entire play in rehearsal”. This guide is aimed at fresh directors, but I'd put it on the shelves of anyone interested in theatre. You'll be well-informed after just a few pages, and won't want to put it down – unless your arms are aching. Theatre Craft is out on 18 March. Order it now.

Notes on Directing by Frank Hauser and Russell Reich
Methuen, £8.99
It seems that Judi Dench has been busy with her books. “Compulsory reading for every aspiring director” is her verdict on this one – also brandishing the cover. This guide by former director of the Oxford Playhouse Frank Hauser, who's worked with Sir Ian McKellen, and creative director Russell Reich, who's been a visiting artist in residence at Harvard, is much slimmer than Caird's tome. It's 110 pages of 130 pithy, honest and wittily told tips for directors. No. 23: “Assume that everyone is in a permanent state of catatonic terror. This will help you approach the impossible state of infinite patience and benevolence that actors and others expect from you.” No. 90: “Play peek-a-boo”. This is a practical book (no. 90 is justified in the text). Let's go with Dame Judi again: it's a must-have.


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