THE OLD VIC by Terry Coleman (Faber £25). The story of the theatre from Kean to Olivier to Spacey is a good, quick and easy read. The star turn is the eccentric Lilian Baylis, manager from 1912 till her death in 1937. Great actors went there in the 1930’s for the roles not the money. For anybody of my generation the Old Vic will have played a great part in their theatrical education and that was even before the National Theatre took up temporary residence. Perhaps when a second edition is published a selected chronology of the great productions and the great performances could be added?
THE TREASURES OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE by Catherine M S Alexandre (Andre Deutsch £30) includes life, the works, the performances and 20 removable documents. If you enjoy seeing Shakespeare on stage, and especially if you are a regular visitor to the Royal Shakespeare Company, then this book, a celebration of the 450th anniversary of his birth, is a pleasant souvenir. It might even encourage more theatregoing among the young.
STAGE BLOOD by Michael Blakemore (Faber £9.99) Five Tempestuous Years in the Early Life of the National Theatre is essential reading for anybody who wants to know what went on backstage during this crucial period. The title gives a big clue. There was a moment when it seemed as if Blakemore might have become one of the artistic directors. There are excellent portraits of Laurence Olivier, Peter Hall, Kenneth Tynan, John Dexter and many others.
BRYDEN & CLARK Lives in the Theatre (Oberon Books £19.99). Bill Bryden was an associate director at the National Theatre. The book, engagingly chatty, is a record of some of the productions at the Cottesloe Theatre and describes Bryden’s encounters with Tennessee Williams, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, etc, etc. There is a vivid memory of the disastrous royal opening. The excellent photographs are by Nobby Clark.
THE QUALITY OF MERCY by Peter Brook (Nick Hern Books £9.99) is reflections on Shakespeare by one of the master directors of the 20th century. His wise and accessible words will be extremely useful for would-be directors, actors and students of Shakespeare. His own productions of Titus Andronicus King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream are amongst the finest of the century. Brook knows that “the life of a performance begins and ends at the moment of performance…. no form, nor interpretation is for ever.”
WHAT DO I KNOW People, Politics and Arts by Richard Eyre (Nick Hern Books £20.) These short, sharp and very readable essays by one of the leading theatre directors are on the people he has worked with when he was artistic director of the National Theatre: people such as Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett Judi Dench and Peter Hall. There are also commentaries on texts such as Hedda Gabler, King Lear and Guys and Dolls and comments on Margaret Thatcher and the Queen and Monarchy.