15 May 2014 / Grants and Awards
Theatre Book Prize – Full Report & Audio
THEATRE BOOK PRIZE for books published in 2013
The presentation of the STR Theatre Book Prize for books published in 2013 took place in the Val Parnell Suite of the London Palladium on Friday 9th May 2014 when theatre and publishing people, media folk and academics heard the judges speak about the year’s books and actress Maureen Lipman CBE made the presentations.
The National Theatre Story
by Daniel Rosenthal (Oberon)
The Other National Theatre: 350 Years of Shows in Drury Lane
by Robert Whelan (Jacob Tonson)
Speaking the Speech
by Giles Block (Nick Hern Books)
by Michael Blakemore (Faber & Faber)
Wooden Os: Shakspeare’s Theatres and England’s Trees
by Vin Nardizzi (University of Toronto Press)
The winner was
The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal (Oberon Books)
About the Judges
Kate Bassett is a journalist and theatre critic who has worked as theatre critic for The Times, the Daily Telegraph and most recently the Independent on Sunday as well as contributing to many other publications and featuring regularly on BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves and On Air.
She has chaired or been a judge on a number of theatre award panels and hosts and takes part in platform talks at the National Theatre and elsewhere.
In 2013 her book In Two Minds: A Biography of Jonathan Miller was shortlisted for Theatre Book Prize, the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography in 2013 and the HW Fisher Best First Biography Prize.
Charlotte Westenra is a theatre director who has made her mark with productions such as Lower Ninth (Donmar at Trafalgar Studios), Kiss of the Spiderwoman (Donmar Warehouse), Darfur (with Nicholas Kent, Tricycle Theatre), Gladiator Games (Sheffield theatre and theatre Royal Stratford East) and as one of the directors of 66 Books (Bush Theatre).
She is winner of an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement as associate director to Nicolas Kent for Bloody Sunday, has been resident assitant director at the Donmar, was associated director to Michael Grandage on Frost/Nixon and Piaf and is an Associate Artist at the Gate Theatre.
Andy Lavender is Professor of Theatre & Performance and Head of the School of Arts at the University of Surrey.
He was previously Dean of Research at Central School of Speech & Drama, University of London.
He is the artistic director of the theatre/performance company Lightwork for which he has dierected many productions. Publications include Hamlet in Pieces: Shakespeare reworked by Peter Brook, Robert Lepage and Robert Wilson and chapters and articles contributed to numerous other books and academic journals.
A transcript of the event follows. A recording can be heard here.
Due to a technical problem a section from Prof Any Lavender’s presentation is missing from the recording but it is complete in the transcript
TIMOTHY WEST CBE President of the Society for Theatre Research
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this wonderful Frank Matcham theatre and to, we think, the seventeenth year of the presentation of the STR Theatre Book Awards. I would like to thank our hardworking and diligent judges and Maureen for turning up having sustained an injury to her knee on the way here. She is being very brave about it. (Indistinct comment and laughter) Come on, there are lots of wheelchair parts – as I know!
The STR Book Prize has been awarded to some remarkable people in the past, as I am sure it will be today and to tell you the details and the names I will pass over to Howard Loxton.
(Applause for Timothy West)
HOWARD LOXTON Chair of the judging panel
Thank you very much Tim.
I want to start of with some thankyous too. First to Really Useful Theatres for once again providing us with a venue, to Dewynters for supplying our invitations, both physical and electronic – some of you will have got electronic invitations, in fact some of you may have got more than one, for I have been having a disastrous two or three weeks with technology – everything has been going wrong and as you see I have been pulling my hair out. One thing about electronic invitations it does save us a lot of postage and we do run this whole affair on half a shoestring. I won’t go on about that. It is a cue for fundraising but this isn’t the time.
So thanks, to the editors, thanks to the publishers. We have had a couple fewer theatre books to read this year but there have still been nearly fifty of them. We are glad to have not just those that go to the top of the list in the judges’ opinion but all of them. These days, bookshops rarely give much space to theatre titles and it is not easy to know what has been published. I am sure you will discover titles on display today Include titles you have never even heard of. STR now lists all books entered for the prize on its website with appropriate links to publishers. We hope that will help a little and the Society is looking at ways of expanding such listing further.
Before we talk about all the books let’s acknowledge those who made the short list. I would like to ask a lady who’s fame as an actress is rivalled by her success as an author herself to present those awards: it is of course Miss Maureen Lipman.
MAUREEN LIPMAN CBE
Thank you. (then in response to her introductory music) And if Tim West is Frankie Vaughan I’m Alma Cogan.
I think it’s great that there is an award for a theatre book because we have no way – it’s an amorphous business being an actor and we can all talk about our memories of Sir Laurence and out memories of Dame Peggy but actually truth is subjective and we only find out the truth by reading all these books for that is all that will be left. It is amazing to read some of these books and to come across things you’ve seen and you didn’t know the half of it. So it is with enormous pleasure that I ask for a small envelope to be put into my hand… Oh I get a big one first!
The first of the short list is Michael Blakemore for Stage Blood. Michael I have worked with five times in my life and I would like to work with him some more – so I hope to goodness that he’s going to win otherwise it will be my fault! But it is a tremendously good read and it covers a period of time which I regard as the happiest time of my career certainly, and I wish you luck. And the next short list… .
Ah Michael is here, so I’m going to give you your certificate Michael, you come up and get it. (Applause, which drowns their exchange and laughter) Congratulations Michael.
The next award is for Giles Block and it is for Speaking the Speech, a book much needed in this profession. Please come up Giles and receive your certificate. (Applause)
The next is by Vin Nardizzi and its title is intriguing. This is an extraordinary book: Wooden Os: Shakespeare’s Theatres and England’s Trees. Nothing more to be said. Mr Nardizzi come and received your certificate and congratulations. (Applause)
Vin Nardizzi is in America, is there anyone here to represent him?
OK. I’ll just mime it! (Laughter as she does) He apparently doesn’t make speeches he doesn’t believe in them. We’ll send you a hologram.
Next is Daniel Rosenthal’s The National Theatre Story. And again I lived the dream and I also married a man called Rosenthal. No Maureen, this is not about you, so get on with it!
It is an incredible story the National theatre story and it will go on and will be built up in many forms in years to come. In fact today it is an incredible success and to have been there at the beginning is a fantastic treat. Daniel Rosenthal are you here or shall I be you? (Applause for Daniel Rosenthal)
And finally Robert Whelan The Other National Theatre: 350 Years of Shows in Drury Lane – and that must have been an absolute pleasure to write Robert. Please come up and receive your certificate.
(Applause for Robert Whelan)
OK. Shall I go now?” I’m going now. (Laughter and applause)
Oh, no, I’ll just tell you one thing, now I’ve got the chance. When I first joined the National theatre the first play was Tiger, it was a musical, and Sir Laurence came up to the dressing room and my parents were there and my father shook him warmly by the hand and told him proud he must be to have his daughter in his company.
Thank you Maureen and congratulations to all the short-listed authors.
The Theatre Book prize has got a very wide embrace – every branch of theatre from puppet show to opera, books published anywhere as long as it is a first publication and in English on British or British related theatre. Publishers large and small: big trade houses, small self-publishers, they are all reflected in this year’s crop. Bernth Lindfors’ Ira Aldridge: Performing Shakespeare in Europe, is the third volume of a study that reached our short list in 2011. It’s about the Black American actor who made his home in Britain, from Rochester University Press in America and published here by Boydell & Brewer. British actress Gwen Ffrangcon Davies made a major contribution to South African theatre as well playing opposite Gielgud and leading the Memorial Theatre company at Stratford. Helen Grime’s biography from Pickering and Chatto will reawaken interest in an actress who is perhaps in risk of being forgotten.
Both those books are firmly rooted in theatre, not always true of the biographical books that we receive, however good they are on private lives. Someone at that other publisher pairing Chatto and Windus obviously thought The Animals, a collection of love letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, edited by Katherine Bucknell, had more relevance than did our judges. Fascinating it may be, but it doesn’t have a great deal about theatre.
Quite the opposite is the case with three new volumes in Bloomsbury’s Great Shakespeareans series. Carty Mazer has edited a volume on directors Poel, Granville Barker, Guthrie, Wanamaker, Peter Holland one on Hall, Brook, Ninagawa, and Lepage and Russell Jackson a volume devoted to actors Gielgud, Olivier, Ashcroft, Dench. Style and approach varies to suit subject as they deal with their work as Shakespeare directors and performers but they all are readable and useful contributions to theatre studies, reflecting the academic rigour of their editors but well matched to the general reader. It is a pity that they appear in a series that costs £75 per volume, they should be in student-priced paperback.
Those three volumes may be backward looking but the blurb of my next describes it as a “cutting edge discourse on the strongly emerging tradition of experimentation in contemporary British theatre to redefine what the dramatic stands for today.
Contemporary British Theatre Breaking New Ground, from Palgrave, edited by Vicky Angelaki is about plays rather than performance. Its contributing authors look at work by such as Caryl Churchill, Martin Crimp, Denis Kelly and Winsome Pinnock considering content, context and audience. Performing Site-Specific Theatre, from Ashgate, is another collection of academic essays, edited by Anna Birch and Joanne Tompkins. One essay looks back to the first production of Milton’s Comus in Ludlow Castle as a site specific performance, but most look at recent productions in locations across Britain.
Josephine Machon’s Immersive Theatre, also from Ashgate, draws on her own experience of productions by companies such as Punchdrunk. Dreamthinkspeak, Wilson and Wilson and Wildworks. She explores this branch of performance which embeds the audience in the work.
The last of my books before I hand over the other, proper judges – I’m only the Chair – They are all celebratory records: Elizabeth Thomson’s lavishly illustrated Chickenshed – an Awfully Big Adventure, from Elliot & Thomson, tells the story of that north London theatre which for 40 years has created theatre with and for young people who are variously abled. In interviews and photographs it chronicles their productions and history.
Oberon’s Sadler’s Wells Dance House by Sarah Crompton isn’t a history but a celebration of how, since Ian Spalding took over in 2005 the Wells has become a powerhouse for all kinds of dance, ballet to hip-hop, with pictures and text capturing some of that excitement.
Finally, from me, Susan Croft’s Unfinished Histories: Alternative Theatre in Lambeth and Camden published by Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance and Unfinished Histories. It’s small in scale but big in importance. Produced to accompany an exhibition seen in both those boroughs, it showcases the research and archival work that Croft’s organization has been doing to create a record of the alternative and fringe companies that brought such marked change to British theatre in the latter half of the last century. Their story needs telling as well as those others you’ll here of from the judges who I will hand over to now. First I am going to call on Charlotte Westenra to tell us about the books she particularly wanted to talk about.
My first job in theatre was at the Tricycle and therefore Terry Stoller’s Tales of the Tricycle Theatre (published by Bloomsbury) had special a resonance for me. I was thrilled to see the work of this extraordinary little North West London theatre being recognised. Stoller does a deft job weaving together a narrative of the theatre with aural testimonies from artists and theatre makers who’ve been part of its story. Detailed accounts of ground-breaking plays such as The Colour of Justice and Guantanamo, make it a useful start point for any student of political theatre. The tenacity and drive of Nicolas Kent justly shines forth from its pages.
I knew very little about the work of Suspect Culture before coming to their book by Graham Eatough and Dan Rebellato (Oberon). I felt that the vitality of this company was well served by this book’s imaginative format. We learn about this Scottish theatre’s history through essays by various collaborators an interview with Graham Eatough the company’s co-founder, scripts, photographs and even floor plans. It gives us multiple ways in to their story and a sense of their visual aesthetic.
Peter Brook’s The Quality of Mercy (Nick Hern) is a short and meditative collection of essays on Shakespeare. They are direct and written with great clarity. Some pick apart a phrase or two – such as Prospero’s last lines, while others focus on a production’s journey. His experience with Vivien Leigh on Titus Andronicus gives an insight into the sadness and pain of this beautiful woman and his personal account of A Midsummer Nights’ Dream is a great document about a seminal moment in theatre history. There is much for the Shakespeare lover to find in this slim volume.
That was Us (Oberon) edited by Fintan Walsh, charts the changing shifts in modern Irish theatre in light of the country’s recent social and political climate. Covering many different productions, forms and companies it offers a wide range of critical essays on the changing Irish theatrical landscape.
Acts of Desire: Women and Sex On Stage 1800-1930 (Oxford University Press) examines and questions the notion of the “fallen woman” through its representation on stage. The book is well researched and draws upon many unpublished and censored plays from the time.
Continuing the theme of representation of women on stage is one of my favourite books this year: Lucy Kerbel’s 100 Great Plays for Women (Nick Hern Books). Kerbel sought out plays that put female performers centre stage, and that have either an entirely, or predominantly female cast. It is a treasure trove of wonderful ideas for producers and directors, clearly laid out with cast breakdown, who it’s published by and reflections by Kerbel. Her choices are varied – covering ancient drama to contemporary classics to little known works. I learnt so much reading this invaluable book.
Played in Britain by Kate Dorney and Frances Gray is another collection of 100 plays – this time focusing on modern theatre 1945-2010. It’s a large glossy coffee table book with pictures, a “snapshot” about the play, information about key creative and the play’s impact and afterlife. The format doesn’t allow the writers to go into depth about each production but is a fun introduction for anyone who wants a quick overview of modern British Theatre. For a more thorough look at British theatre – this time focusing on 2000-2009 is Modern British Playwriting edited by Dan Rebellato (Bloomsbury). An introduction about living in the 2000s is followed by an engaging essay about trends in the theatre of this time by Andrew Haydon. The rest of the book focuses on five playwrights whose voices have clearly emerged in the decade. The book is the last in a six part series charting British Theatre from the 50s.
Catherine Wynne’s Bram Stoker, Dracula and the Victorian Gothic Stage (Palgrave) focuses on the little examined relationship between Stoker and the stage. Wynne puts up a strong counter to the popular argument that Henry Irving was a model for Dracula. She suggests instead that it was his championing of Victorian melodrama that provided fuel for Stoker’s imagination. She shows how the theatre of the time: themes, plots, stagecraft and leading ladies all had a bearing on Stoker’s vampiric creation.
Derek Jacobi’s As Luck Would Have It (Harper Collins) is memorable for the beautiful picture he paints of his childhood growing up in East London. Despite the war and rations he was incredibly happy at the centre of a close-knit family. His affection for his parents and his gratitude for their support is threaded throughout the book. It exudes real warmth. He also talks about some of his defining moments including I Claudius, his several Hamlets, Lear and being part of Olivier’s first National Theatre Company.
Olivier has been very present in the theatre books published this year – due no doubt to the National Theatres’ 50th Anniversary. Philip Zeigler’s Olivier (MacLehose Press) is a fluently written and informative biography of the man. His contradictions are clearly drawn and a portrait emerges of someone who could be petty, professionally jealous, cruel, distant, a philanderer and at the same time be generous, warm, a great actor, a leader and someone who believed in and fought for the right for everyone to have access to great art. I found Zeigler’s book very readable.
For a real understanding of the greatness of Olivier’s acting however, I turned to Michael Blakemore’s wonderful Stage Blood. A description of Olivier climbing on a table to change a light bulb in a performance of Long Day’s Journey into Night had me holding my breath. And though I know I’ll never see his James Tyrone I feel I have got as close as it’s possible through Blakemore’s writing. Similarly the atmosphere and detail of Blakemore’s production of The Front Page is bought to life in magnificent detail. Clive Merrison crashing through the window shattering glass across the stage or Maureen Lipman throwing herself out of the window with a scream that fell forty feet down is so wonderfully described I feel I was witness to it. Stage Blood highlights the differences between the public spirited Olivier and his dreams for an ensemble-led National and his political savvy, corporate successor Peter Hall. Blakemore writes with passion and sometimes rage at how he saw Hall use the National to benefit himself, and his own diaries to rewrite history. Throughout the book Blakemore gives a well-defined argument for public service theatre and for what a National Theatre should mean to all of us.
And now I am going to hand over to Andy.
Thank you Charlie. This is the first time I have ever had walk-on music so though it may have look as though I was being very polite and letting Charlie come past I was enjoying the moment that I know a number of you are very familiar with. It’s good isn’t it!
I expect most of the books we received started from a very personal passion. Robert Gore-Langton’s Journey’s End: The Classic War Play Explored did. It’s a very readable account of R. C. Sherriff’s World War One drama, in context of Sherriff’s experience in the war. I was less sure I must confess about the rather unflattering comparison drawn with Oh What a Lovely War, but this is a book inspired by devotion after Journey’s End hit Gore-Langton ‘ like a whizzbang’ when he first saw it.
[Due to a technical fault the following section of Andy Lavender’s presentation is omitted from the recording]
Two books celebrated individual theatres. I found Roger Trayhurn and Mark Child’s All for the Empire strangely moving. Trayhurn was a librarian in Swindon and regular audience member at the town’s Empire Theatre, which closed in 1955. He went on to generate a personal archive of records and ephemera. Child also saw shows at the Empire when he was a boy. Their book is a commemoration, a social history, and an act of love, full of the warp and weft of regional theatre. Rather more metropolitan, Robert Whelan’s The Other National Theatre: 350 Years of Shows in Drury Lane moves from the backstory of the founding of the Theatre Royal in 1663, through the constructions and extensions of four versions of the building, and the appearances of a compelling cast including Killigrew, Garrick, Sheridan, Siddons and Novello. Whelan writes with easy authority and an eye for detail, and explains Drury Lane’s history in relation to wider theatrical trends and political imperatives. This is nearly a history of theatre as much as the history of a single theatre, and comfortably lives up to the vim and variety of its subject.
A number of authors looked afresh at specific places. As you’d expect of Mike Pearson, Marking Time: Performance, archaeology and the city is caringly done, with the devil in the detail. It’s a story of alternative theatre in Cardiff since the 1960s, divided into five ‘ itineraries’, in which Pearson moves through different parts of the city – from the University Assembly Hall to 47 Park Place to the Sherman Theatre, for instance – to trace instances of performance, and quietly celebrate their place in the lives of Cardiff and its inhabitants. Larraine Nicholas’s Walking and Dancing: Three Years of Dance in London is also geared around the idea of physical journeys through the city – a nice way of feeling history. Nicholas examines dance performances and places in London during the transitional post-war years of 1951-53. She does so through a series of walks (from the Stoll Theatre to the Royal Festival Hall, for example) that allow her to map the present against the past, and describe both changes and continuities in dance and society. Mapping Irish Theatre, by Chris Morash and Sean Richards, also belongs to the ‘ spatial turn’ in scholarship, concerned as it is with geography, location and the effects of space. They examine specific venues and settings in Irish theatre, through the lens of critical writing on space and place. They have put this together very expertly, and stride smoothly across history, theory and different sorts of drama.
Other scholarly books dealt with recent developments in theatre and performance. In The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary English Tragedy, Sean Carney argues that a sense of ‘ the tragic’ runs through a range of contemporary plays. He analyses the work of Hare, Barker, Bond, Churchill, Ravenhill and Kane, searching out motifs of suffering (you have to admit – they’re not hard to find). Duska Radosavljevi? scans more widely in Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century. Her accounts of people, productions and scholarly positions are well-observed, from Kneehigh to Tim Crouch, the ‘ dramaturgy of the real’ to relational aesthetics. She interrelates all this to demonstrate that text-based and devised theatre are no longer separate entities, but often fuse together in exciting ways. Different in focus and sharp as a tack, Jen Harvie’s Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism covers a host of contemporary developments, including the rise of the prosumer (someone who both produces and consumes), the ‘ artrepreneur’, pop-up theatres and crowd-funding. Harvie writes with characteristic trenchancy, to explain how events and performances make their mark and (sometimes) create new social bonds.
Let’s move from the present to the past – but by way of no less contemporary critical perspectives. Shakespeare’s Theatres and the Effects of Performance, edited by Farah Karim-Cooper and Tiffany Stern, is a useful collection of essays looking at concrete staging practices in early modern theatre. If the design feels a bit cramped, the book itself belongs to an expanding movement in theatre studies that focuses on performance rather than playtext, showing, for instance, how props, stage blood and storm effects work in Shakespearean production. If this provides new insights, I was peculiarly delighted reading Vin Nardizzi’s Wooden Os: Shakespeare’s Theatres and England’s Trees. Nardizzi focuses on all things wood – from the commerce of tree-felling, timber manufacture and carpentry in Jacobean and Elizabethan England, to the plentiful appearances of branches, trees and all things woody in Shakespeare’s plays. Like some weaver of wicker, Nardizzi intertwines ecological, economic and theatrical practices, and reveals an entirely new construction of both Shakespearean theatre and early modern Europe, through an unusual eco-cultural approach.
[The recording of the event continues from this point]
Finally, I was impressed with The Audience Experience: a critical analysis of audiences in the performing arts, edited by Jennifer Radbourne. It’s not easy to make an edited volume work consistently as a whole – but this is a collection of uniformly strong essays. The book addresses strategies for audience-building (make them feel), and a taste for fresh experiences on the part of spectators. The authors propose a new model, the Arts Audience Experience Index, to help analyse ‘ the intrinsic benefit of … [audiences’] experience of the performance’. We are back to singular passions. I look forward to seeing the model widely applied.
And now I am going to hand over to Kate Bassett. (Applause)
Entry music and adjustment to disco lighting. Perhaps we can all have a disco afterwards. Is there any disco music? We can all hit the floor and be the Palladium sideshow I Can’t Dance.
It’s hard to know where to begin when there are so many enticing theatre books in this year’s crop. However it surely makes sense to start with My First Play, which is a charming anthology compiled by publisher Nick Hern to celebrate the twenty-first birthday of his publishing house. This is a little gem of a book, being a collection of micro-memoirs. Hern asked his top dramatists, adaptors and translators to write a few choice paragraphs about their very first, inspiring brush with the theatre. His contributors who are over 60 include Caryl Churchill, Conor McPherson, Nina Raine, Billy Roche and many more. The results are often wittily self-deprecating but poignantly intimate too, and sort of electrifyingly enthusing. It’s as if each of them has held out to you the live wire of an ever-vivid memory. I loved that book.
I also found Then What Happens, written by Mike Alfreds (also published by Nick Hern) incisive and stimulating. Alfreds is well-known for transforming novels into highly imaginative stage productions. This book sees him arguing that theatre needs to prize storytelling more, and he explains a whole array of techniques and exercises you can use to create what he calls story-theatre, drawing on source materials other than plays. Now I’ve not quite got round to devising my own show for your this afternoon – you may be relieved to know – but this book a very practical user’s guide for anyone who is or aspiring to be an alternative theatre-maker.
Paul Elsam’s biography of Stephen Joseph, reminds us of the key role Joseph played in encouraging the building of more theatres in the round in Britain. Meanwhile drama students and devoted fans of David Greig and Timberlake Wertenbaker may want to peruse the latest additions to Methuen Drama’s Critical Companions series by Clare Wallace and Sophie Bush.
Greig’s Dunsinane also features in Julie Boll’s thesis, entitled The New War Plays, which weighs up how contemporary dramatists have responded to grim global conflicts. Cardiff University’s Clair Rowden has edited a collection of essays called Performing Salome: Revealing Stories which track this provocative female icon over beyond Oscar Wilde’s play.
The legendary nineteenth century actor Edwin Booth’s eventful life story is recounted by Arthur W. Bloom in a biography that unusually combines a biography with a performance history – listing every single known Booth performance.
A Year of Shakespeare printed by Bloomsbury in their Arden Series, is a variegated compilation of recent reviews, written by academics mainly and originally posted in the form of a blog. What’s really valuable is it’s a record of every single show in the World Shakespeare Festival, the once-in-a-lifetime marathon of international productions hosted by Shakespeare’s Globe in 2012 and which many of us longed to see in its entirety but couldn’t, life and work unforgivably getting in the way
But now for Speaking the Speech, which is the shortlisted book by Giles Block (also Nick Hern). I found this both fascinating and illuminating. Block is employed at the Globe as the company’s “Master of Words” – i.e. their text guru. Speaking the Speech is a very practical user’s guide theatre book which every classical actor should relish, but which should be of great guide interest to literary critics too. Block’s approach is unintimidating and logical: he divides long speeches into units of thought; he discusses where to draw breath [intake of breath], which I haven’t done so far… But he also produces revelatory close readings. It’s as if he’s passing a magnifying glass over passages you thought you knew like the back of your hand. He is particularly persuasive arguing that the original punctuation, from the First Folio, is more telling than many a modern editor’s supposed clarifications. He’s also outstanding on the emotional significance of all those minute irregularities in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters, all those lines of eleven syllables nobody ever talks about. Every school and every university library should have a copy of this.
Last but not least, also shortlisted, we have The National Theatre Story by Daniel Rosenthal published by Oberon Books.
This is an extremely history of the flagship institution, a narrative that stretches right back to the 19th century when the notion of a high-calibre, subsidised British National Theatre was first hesitantly mooted – much to the chagrin of some West End producers – feel the Palladium quiver with rage. Harley Granville Barker, a, Rosenthal explains, in 1904 and others took up the cause, battling with government apathy and mighty spanners in the works – not least two world wars, to see the idea through. The NT company was eventually, of course, enterprisingly established in 1963 under Laurence Olivier.
Crucially, Rosenthal assesses the National ‘ s evolution in its different eras. He analyses how its programming and strategies have changed over the years under the influenced of its individual artistic director’s preferences but also major shifts in the British political scene, economy and society – as Richard Eyre, of course, succeeded Peter Hall, followed by Trevor Nunn and Nicholas Hytner.
Now, I don’t know if everyone saw it out in the foyer, but The National Theatre Story is one hell of a tome. It’s like a breeze block and then a bit. We’re talking nigh-on 1000 pages. The footnotes, by the way, are online in a sort of cutting edge development, because I suspect you’d have to go into weight training to lift the baby off the shelf if you hadn’t had that.
In the wrong hands it could also have been heavy-going, full of dry statistics from the NT’s archive about box-office sales and funding percentages. Yet what Rosenthal has done: he’s digested all his research terrifically intelligently, as well as incorporating lively new interviews and what’s really astounding is how easy a read it is.
The National Theatre Story is not just informative, it’s hugely enjoyable. Rosenthal marshalls his mass of material with a kind of serene lucidity. He introduces you to the milling hoards of people involved like a surreptitiously dexterous party host. His writing is quietly eloquent, the story, its like a rolling story actually, is very compelling.
Some of National’s backstairs dramas have been gripping in the extreme with bitter clashes behind the scenes, as Michael Blakemore’s Stage Blood also deals with.
Rosenthal doesn’t draw a veil over rifts and troubles at the National. And, of course, anecdotes about technical hitches are always enormous fun to read about, in hindsight at least – with unplanned fiascos having including (one of my favourites) pilfering the giant, inflatable penis that was meant to feature in the climactic scene of Peter Brook’s Oedipus, and the flood warnings that had to be issued due to the humungous burst water tanks that were meant to be floating the boat in Alan Ayckbourn’s Upstream.
But overall the National Theatre Story is, of course, an uplifting tale of fantastic theatre. Rosenthal reminds you of the all the era-defining and life-enhancing productions staged by the company. His account culminates in the National’s rightly celebrated 50th anniversary year under Hytner’s watch, and looks ahead to Rufus Norris’ eagerly anticipated arrival as its next AD in 2015. But that’s the next chapter. But in the meantime, I think we should all applaud Rosenthal’s really sterling work as well as Oberon’s beautifully produced hardback. It’s one to treasure. And, if anyone’s got weak biceps or incapacious handbags, it is also available as an e-book. That’s it!
Thank you very much indeed. It’s not a doddle being a judge for the Theatre Book Prize. We have to show real appreciation for what they do. They tell me each year that they have enjoyed it. I hope that’s really true. On behalf of the Society I really want to thank them, and that is a heartfelt thanks from me too. Thank you, all of you.
Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. If I can ask Miss Lipman to rejoin me and announce the winner.
And the prize goes to Daniel Rosenthal for The National Theatre Story.
Thank you very much indeed.
I haven’t prepared anything at all so I hope I will thank everybody that I need to thank.
I want to thank the Society and the judges. I am tremendously looking forward to reading three of the books on the short list that I haven’t read yet. I have already read twice Stage Blood, Michael Blakemore’s book, and it must be said that not even in my dreams do I write half as well as Michael.
So, I have lots of other people to thank. I must thank various people at the National Theatre, going back ten years and more now. Nicholas Hytner had been director for a year when he, to a degree on the recommendation of Lyn Haill, head of publications, decided that I was a fit and proper person to have access to the archives. I am enormously grateful to him and to Sir Christopher Hogg, who was Chairman of the Board at the time, for giving me access to the archive without which access I wouldn’t have written the book, so I wouldn’t be standing here.
Lyn was the champion of the book from day one, through to its conclusion. Lyn is here as is Lucinda Morrison of National Theatre Press who was tremendously rigorous sounding board for the work in progress. Gavin Clarke, until January the National’s Archivist, is the nearest thing to a co-author that this book has and I wish that the e-book on certain passages of the book on detail a little light would flash up with Gavin’s initials to credit that I would never have found it without his help – that particular story or particular statistic.
I must thank Oberon for extraordinarily stalwart support for a book whose deadlines passed as though it was Groundhog Day. A year would pass and I would say the book would be ready, and it wouldn’t and it wouldn’t. Not only did they bear with me but, as Kate Bassett just said, they delivered the most beautiful product at the end of it.
Last but not least I would like to thank my parents. And in fact, it is a particular honour getting the prize from Maureen because I have on occasion been asked if she was my mum. She isn’t. My mum is sitting here, and she and my father were the reason that I got into theatre and the book is dedicated to both of them. My father passed away in January so it is only natural to dedicate this to both my parents, particularly to my dad.
It was an enormous privilege to be able to write the book and I always set out to write a book that would do justice to the extraordinary story of the National and therefore this is a tremendous, for me a tremendous vindication of the National’s importance. It is the best theatre in the world. And so, thank you very much indeed, thank you.