We have a winner!
At midday today (22 May) our President Timothy West announced the winner of the STR Theatre Book Prize to a gathering of academics, actors, and other theatre practitioners, writers, publishers and interested theatre enthusiasts. They were gathered in the Val Parnell rooms at the London Palladium, kindly made available by Really Useful Theatres.
The title which the judges had apparently unanimously selected was Oliver! A Dickensian Musical by Marc Napolitano (published by Oxford University Press). Professor Napolitano could not personally be present to receive the award. He is on the staff at West Point, the famous US Military Academy – it is surprising in what varied places you can find theatre buffs.
Before the winner was announced the judges spoke about the books entered for 2014 and Matt Wolf said that this title
is one of the most enlightening books on musical theatre process – or, for that matter, theatrical process of any kind – that I have yet come across. Illuminating about both the art and the commerce of that endeavour that we call show business, the book combines context, analysis, and theatrical smarts into an immensely readable whole. Academicians will appreciate its investigation into the art of adaptation while musical devotees will be delighted to find in one volume more than they could ever have hoped to learn about the making of arguably the first show to put Britain on the global musical map – not to mention the lasting legacy of Oliver! ever since.
In the past there has been carping from some quarters that academic titles never win the Theatre Book Prize – not true you have only to look at the list of past winners – but it was unusual to have a short list that came only from academic presses, and just two leading ones head to head.
This isn’t a prize for the most learned tome but for the best book and past academic judges have been the first to reject those titles that fail to connect with the reader. Unrevised theses and conference papers that are repetitious and challenge comprehension inevitably lose out. This year’s short list – and especially Oliver! show that you can be authoritative and rigorous and write well.
While some of you will have received post delivered invitations (kindly supplied by Dewynters) we had some serious Internet problems and many of those contacted by e-mail received them very late or perhaps not at all. If you were one of them, our apologies. But perhaps your e-mail has changed. When that happens please remember to inform both the Membership Secretary and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some familiar faces were missing from the event but there was still a good turn out. Academics from as far away as Dublin and Lancaster made the journey to London, there were theatre folk from West End casts to a young dramatist whose play opened on the fringe the night before, a couple of pensionable stage managers met up who had been with the National at the Old Vic, an actor and an actress who had both appeared with Donald Wolfit and people new to the profession, writers and publishers, some well known directors, a famous photographer — all theatre enthusiasts that were a reminder of what a wide range of people are drawn into the Society’s activities.
People sometimes get the idea that STR is just about old playbills and Victorian actors. Like the huge range of books that get entered for this prize the remit embraces everything to do with British theatre, past, present and even future.