Round-up of Books by and on Alan Bennett, Emma Hamilton, Edith Piaf, Johnny Depp, Stewart Lee and Alessandro de Medici
KEEPING ON KEEPING ON by Alan Bennett (Faber & Faber £25).Bennett is now in the eighties, still writing, still computer-illiterate, and fears there will be a Tory government for the remainder of his life. He gives Tony Blair a rough time. His diaries, witty and humane, continue to be a good read and cover 2005 to 2015, perfect for dipping into. The volume also contains essays and introductions to his most recent works. He pays tribute to Nicholas Hytner, who championed his plays when he was artistic director of the National Theatre. Which of Bennett’s plays do you think will be most likely to last? My guess would be The History Boys and The Madness of George III and the Talking Heads series on TV.
EMMA HAMILTON Seduction & Celebrity (Thames & Hudson £29.95). Emma has always had a bad press precisely because the Brits did not like the idea of her national hero having an affair with a drunk, vulgar, fat slut. It is difficult to take Romney’s portrait of Emma in prayer seriously. The book, handsomely illustrated and published to coincide with an exhibition at Greenwich Maritime Museum, attempts to redress the balance. Emma’s solo Greco-Roman mime, dance, posture, attitudes performances were much admired by the elite in Naples and recorded by Friedrich Rehberg’s drawings. Her piece de resistance was Medea.
EDITH PIAF Find Me A Way To Die by David Bret (Oberon Books £8.99). If you have not heard Piaf sing Non, Je ne regretted rien you have missed one of the great and unforgettable performances in living memory. Piaf, a generous, fragile, superstitious monstre sacre, adored by many, had numerous lovers. Her vie was rarely en rose. Her tragically short life (she died at 47) has been staged and filmed. Bret, who has written about her before, now uses past interviews with lovers, friends, colleagues, songwriters and in particular Marlene Dietrich. He also writes about the songs she sang in detail
JOHNNY DEPP A retrospective by Steven Daly (Carlton £30).What do the weird and extrovert Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Captain Jack Sparrow, Sweeney Todd and the Mad Hatter have in common? Depp has fun hiding behind hats, wigs and make-up and constantly reinventing himself. He is both star and actor and rich enough to do what he wants. His range is extraordinary, yet he always remains Depp. Tim Burton’s films are the perfect channel for his talents and élan. What great classic role do you think he should attempt at some point in his career? This lavishly illustrated, handsomely produced retrospective will delight his admirers.
STEWART LEE CONTENT PROVIDER (Faber & Faber £14.99). Selected Short Prose Pieces. 2011-2016. Stewart Lee’s forte is political satire and his writing has a nonchalant, surreal sarcasm, rather kike his stand-up act. Lee is the comedian’s comedian. His targets include royalty and politicians about whom he can be very scatological. He writes about national identity and racism, immigrants and fruit cakes, FIFA and BAFTA, the Scots and PR gone mad. High spots include the Queen’s Speech, Christ’s Passion performed in Trafalgar Square and the Chinese President’s visit to the UK. His wit can be as lethal as Jonathan Swift. Cameron, Osborne and Gove will be much amused.
THE BLACK PRINCE OF FLORENCE by Catherine Fletcher (Bodley Head £20). The spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de’ Medici. Alessandro, paying a visit to a married woman, decided to have a nap before sex. He woke to find himself being murdered. His reign, begun when he was 19, seven years earlier, had come to end. Renaissance Italy is the perfect setting for melodrama and the Medicis especially are always good value when it comes to political intrigue and violence. What’s the betting somebody will turn Alessandro’s story into a television series? Television is crying out for diversity. It’s a good role for a young black actor.