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Lots of new books for performing arts people

Oliver Ford Davies is an unusual actor because he’s also an accomplished academic – that makes him a pretty cerebral blend of practical and theoretical.  His latest book Shakespeare’s Fathers and Daughters (for Bloomsbury – in its Arden Shakespeare series) is a fascinating reflection of his dual approach. There are so many fathers of daughters in Shakespeare: Prospero, Capulet, Lear, Leonato, Egeus, Shylock et al and, of course, Ford Davies has played most of them. And means he’s worked with many interesting young female actors such as Mariah Gales who played Ophelia to his Polonius in the 2008 RSC production of Hamlet. He gives us plenty of insights into how an actor might approach this paternal/filial relationship along with background historical commentary on the changing legal rights and responsibilities of fathers and their portrayal in drama, “more nuanced and realistic” in Shakespeare than in say Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta in which fathers and daughters become “farcical melodrama.” It’s an accessible study, well worth reading.

So is John Kenrick’s Musical Theatre, a history (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama). This is a new edition of an American book first published in 2008 so it’s bang up to date – and that’s useful as the world of musical theatre is changing rapidly. It is strong on tracing the origins of musical theatre through the Greeks and the centuries before America was colonised. We then see how, after independence, America gradually hosted the evolution of a new theatrical art form – and why. Today, of course, tourists make up large swathes of the audience and Kenrick reflects on what changes that is triggering – as well as considering what will happen in the future.

A musical theatre phenomenon so big – and arguably unexpected – that it justifies a whole book of its own is the Disney musical and how it has triumphed both in the cinema and the theatre. Edited by George Rodosthenous The Disney Musical on Stage and Screen (Bloomsbury Methuen Drama) is a series of quite academic essays which explore topics such as gender and race or ask whether Mary Poppins was the precursor of the feminist musical. There’s a lot of very useful discussion here for serious students of the genre.

If you want to study rhythm – probably with a view to building up your own –  and how it works for actors then look at Elion Morris’s Rhythm in Acting and Performance (Bloomsbury). Morris is an actor and percussionist – an unusual combination – who teaches all over Europe. And do read Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art edited by Alison Jeffers and Gerri Moriarty (Bloomsbury) for thoughts about community art and why it matters. I saw Garsington Opera at Wormsley’s Silver Birch recently with a cast of 180 – a very accurate example of what this book is about.

And so to something a bit closer to the ground.  Nick Hern Books has added Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings to its Page to Stage series. It’s really a study guide – by Swale herself and Lois Jeary to help students or anyone else who wants to study the play, stage it or both. Or read four plays by Christopher Shinn. Hard on the heels of Christopher Shinn Plays 1 comes, from Bloomsbury Methuen Drama Christopher Shinn Plays 2 with an introduction by Shinn himself.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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