Winner of the 2023 STR Theatre Book Prize (for books published in 2022)

The Society for Theatre Research was delighted to award the 2023 Theatre Book Prize to:

An Actor’s Life in 12 Productions by Oliver Ford Davies (Book Guild)

The presentation was made by the Society’s President, celebrated actor Timothy West, after the judges had spoken about the short-listed titles and some other of the many books entered. The award was made at a reception at the Actors’Church, St Paul’s Covent Garden, as part of the Society’s celebration of its 75th Anniversary.

Oliver Ford Davies accepting the Prize


An Actor’s Life is a study of British theatre through a varied acting career spanning over sixty years that explores the many changes within the performing arts scene through Oliver Ford Davies’ experiences on various stages, in a variety of productions, across the country. Davies charts the ups and downs of British theatre in the last sixty years, while offering a unique perspective on life behind the curtain and the daring journey from leaving behind an academic career and into acting.

From Shakespeare to Shaw, Chekhov to Pirandello, this is the story of an actor initially struggling to make a mark before making his breakthrough at fifty, winning the Olivier Best Actor award and being propelled into thirty years of leading roles.

Judge William Purefoy said of An Actor’s Life:

“I loved this book from the very beginning largely because of its engaging, almost conversational style but also because of its honesty and humility. I found it extremely saddening to read in such illuminating and erudite terms of the almost entire extinction of the world of regional repertory theatre, a loss which seems simultaneously irretrievable and tragic. The way Oliver describes his early career, and the development of his craft speaks of opportunities never likely to be available again, but luckily he goes on to fill one with hope for the future, the feeling that Theatreland is still thriving… There are also lovely insights into how productions work, how actors develop roles, how plays are living entities which organically change in rehearsal and so much more.”

Watch a video recording of the event on the Actor’s Church YouTube channel.

2023 Judges (for books published 2022)

Jennifer Thorp

Jennifer Thorp is an archivist and dance historian with a particular interest in the performance of dance and its historical context in London and Paris during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in theatrical personnel of that era. Her publications include ‘Servile Bodies? The Status of the Professional Dancer in the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Centuries’; ‘Pierrot Strikes Back: François Nivelon at Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Covent Garden, 1723-1738’, a forthcoming biographical study, The Gentleman Dancing-Master: Mr Isaac and the English Royal Court from Charles II to Queen Anne and With a Grace not to be Captured: Representing the Georgian Theatrical Dancer, 1760-1830, co-edited with Professor Michael Burden, with whom she also organises the Annual Oxford Dance Symposium at New College Oxford.

William Purefoy

William Purefoy is a singer and actor whose performances have ranged from plays at Shakespeare’s Globe and the Bouffes du Nord to concerts in the Royal Albert Hall and as counter-tenor with English National Opera, Scottish Opera and internationally from Europe to New Zealand in roles that have included Ottone in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Ptolemy in Giulio Cesare, Ernesto in Il Mondo della luna, Andronico in Tamerlano, Antonio in Gesualdo, Apollo in Apollo and Hyacinth, Ascanio in Ascanio in Alba and Athamas in Semele. William has made many recordings, has appeared regularly with vocal groups Cantabile - The London Quartet, I Fagiolini and Theatre of Voices and was featured in the television series In Search of Shakespeare and the film Young Victoria.

Cindy Marcolina

Cindy Marcolina was born in Italy in 1992. After earning a degree in entertainment studies with a focus on criticism, she moved to London in 2016 to pursue a career in theatre. A freelance critic and writer, she is a member of the Critics' Circle and currently the ad interim secretary of their drama section. She lives in East London surrounded by books and theatre programmes.

See the complete entry list below for details of individual titles.

The winner was announced on June 15th, when the Society celebrated 75 years since its inauguration and 25 years since the Theatre Book Prize was established.

Books (copyright 2022) entered for the STR Theatre Book Prize 2023

Submissions are the choice of their publishers. They are not limited in number but must meet the criteria outlined above.

Click on a book cover image below for a direct link to the publisher’s own information about that title.

Longlist 2023 in alphabetical order

Previous winners (by year of publication)

2021 – Stirring Up Sheffield by Colin and Tedd George (Wordville)

2020 – Black British Women’s Theatre by Nicola Abram (Palgrave Macmillan)

2019 – Dark Star: A Biography of Vivien Leigh by Alan Strachan (I B Tauris)

2018 – Year of the Mad King: The King Lear Diaries by Antony Sher (Nick Hern Books)

2017 – Balancing Acts by Nicholas Hytner (Jonathan Cape)

2016 – Stage Managing Chaos by Jackie Harvey with Tim Kelleher (McFarland)

2015 – The Censorship of British Drama 1900-1968 by Steve Nicholson (University of Exeter Press)

2014 – Oliver! by Marc Napolitano (Oxford University Press)

2013 – The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal (Oberon)

2012 – Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly (Picador)

2011 – Covering McKellen by David Weston (Rickshaw Publishing)

2010 – The Reluctant Escapologist by Mike Bradwell (Nick Hern Books)

2009 – Different Drummer: the Life of Kenneth Macmillan by Jann Parry (Faber & Faber)

2008 – Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era by Patrick Lonergan (Palgrave Macmillan)

2007 – State of the Nation by Michael Billington (Faber & Faber)

2006 – John Osborne: A Patriot for Us by John Heilpern (Chatto & Windus)

2005 – 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Faber & Faber)

2004 – Margot Fonteyn by Meredith Daneman (Penguin/Viking)

2003 – National Service by Richard Eyre (Bloomsbury)

2002 – A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000 by Christopher Morash (Cambridge University Press)

2001 – Reflecting the Audience: London Theatregoing, 1840-1880 by Jim Davis & Victor Emeljanow
– (Iowa University Press/University of Hertfordshire Press)

2000 – Politics, Prudery and Perversions…. Censoring the English Stage 1901-1968 by Nicholas de Jongh (Methuen)

1999 – Garrick by Ian McIntyre (Allen Lane)

1998 – Threads of Time by Peter Brook (Methuen)

1997 – Peggy: the Life of Margaret Ramsay, Play Agent by Colin Chambers (Nick Hern)

Book Prize Archive

The Book Prize has been awarded each year since 1997.

Click on the links for more information.