When the Arden Performance Edition of Othello arrived recently from Bloomsbury (Methuen Drama) the friend who was staying with me was incredulous. “Surely they don’t think you need a copy of Othello at this stage?” she said. Then I showed her just how different these editions are from the academic Arden editions she and I used in college and have often dipped into since. The side notes focus on what an actor or director needs to think about – verse speaking, making meaning clear and so on. Welcome to the latest in the series.
Also hot off the press from Bloomsbury is ShakesFear and How to Cure It by Ralph Alan Cohen. Once you’ve stopped groaning at the punning title it turns out to be a very practical guide for teachers. It starts with useful general advice and then discusses specific plays – all with lots of suggestions for classroom activities.
And still on Shakespeare do read Emma Smith’s Shakespeare’s First Folio: four centuries of an iconic book (Oxford). We’ve all seen it referred to and admired it in museums. I was once lucky enough to handle an original sitting in the offices of one of London’s theatres. My host happened to own it. Golly. What Smith’s book does is to trace – very accessibly – the history, ownership and influence of the First Folio.
Beyond Shakespeare, various useful, down-to-earth “how to” books have reached me in recent weeks. David Zoob’s Brecht: A Practical Handbook (Nick Hern Books) for instance, cuts through the usual intense theorising and focuses firmly, with plenty of suggestions for class and individual work, on how the performer can use Brechtian methodology to enhance her/his work.
Or take Puppetry and How To Do It by Mervyn Millar (also Nick Hern Books). It starts with “Bringing things to life” and works towards an account of different sorts of puppets. This isn’t a book about how to make puppets. Rather it shares ideas for developing imaginative and innovatory puppetry performance techniques. It’s based on the workshops Millar developed for War Horse.
Performers – in all genres – need to guard their own physical health because the body is each person’s unique tool. Kate Kelly’s Before the Curtain Opens (Triarchy Press) is about the Alexander Technique and its importance in an actor’s life. It’s often a matter of changing life long “bad” habits in sitting, standing, breathing, speaking and reacting. Kelly’s advice, techniques and guidance are rooted in her experience both as an actor and as an Alexander Technique teacher.
Stand-up comedy is a very specific art form and there isn’t much practical advice around. We tend to think entirely of the person on stage too. What about the director behind the scenes? Enter Chris Head’s A Director’s Guide to the Art of Stand-Up (Methuen Drama). He interviews directors, such as Simon McBurney and John Gordillo and demonstrates just how collaborative the process of presenting stand-up can/should be.
And finally for something slightly more cerebral try Will Tosh’s Playing Indoors (Bloomsbury) which explores The Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and its potential for historical research. A great deal has been learned from this new (it opened in 2014) space about staging early modern drama and it’s examined in this engaging book.