If you’re looking for a present, bound to make your beloved theatre person giggle all Christmas morning, then West End Producer’s shiny new book is the obvious 2017 choice. Everything you always wanted to know about going to the theatre (*but were too sloshed to ask, dear) (Nick Hern Books) is funny because it’s so irreverently acute along the lines of “Shows often have more directors than performers”. If an actor forgets his lines in a Pinter play s/he will “say fuck and do an extra long pause” but if it’s Stoppard s/he has only to “spout some gibberish about quantum physics, the Russian Revolution or Nietzsche that makes less sense than usual”. Anyone who works in the industry, is training to do so, or would like to will recognise and smile. Buy several copies.
Or – (far)fewer laughs but lots of useful ideas – try the second edition of Nick O’Brien’s Stanislavsky in Practice (Routledge). It contains dozens of exercises suitable for acting students at sixth form or first year undergraduate level.
For something more cerebral and historical Granville Barker on Theatre: Selected Essays edited by Colin Chambers and Richard Nelson ( Bloomsbury Methuen Drama) is a jolly good read. I especially enjoyed “Hints for Amateurs on Rehearsing a Play” and “The Coming of Ibsen”.
Directing with the Michael Chekhov Technique by Mark Monday (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama) is another practical textbook which would make an ideal gift for an aspirant director or one who is trying to broaden his or her approach.
Peter Brook, of course, writes as interestingly as he directs and his latest little book (it would fit in a jacket pocket so ideal for train journeys and so on) is a fascinating and illuminating set of reflections on language and meaning. Tip of the Tongue is published by Nick Hern Books.
Trying to earn your living by writing is not easy. Ron Hutchison’s Clinging to the Iceberg: Writing for a living on the stage and in Hollywood (Oberon Books) is ruefully funny. “A film maker is someone with a baseball cap on backwards who stands in a muddy field at five in the morning demanding to know where the generators are”. It’s a cheerful, readable mix of anecdote, information and advice.
And lastly, three more gems from Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. Stephen Purcell’s Shakespeare in the Theatre: Mark Rylance at the Globe explores the first decade of productions after the opening of The Globe entertainingly and thoughtfully. A Critical Companion to the American Stage Musical by Elizabeth L Wollman is a factual gold mine for anyone who needs to know about the history of the genre. The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White is a new edition of their 2008 book. It is detailed and practical with lots of support for comedians, actors, public speakers and anyone else who needs to think or his or her feet in public.
Happy Christmas shopping!
PS: A final pearl of theatrical wisdom from the deadpan West End Producer. This time on heavy drinkers: “ You can spot these people in the local Wetherspoons before, during and after a show. They find a stiff drink is the only thing that gets them through such a harrowing thing as being at a theatre. Which is really quite worrying – particularly as most of them are in the cast”