Best books for theatre professionals: February 15
On Shakespeare’s Sonnets: a Poets’ Celebration, edited by Hannah Crawforth and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare)
Compiled and published to mark Shakespeare’s 2016 quatercentenary celebrations, this slim volume of poetry offers plenty of meaty material for actors or drama students looking for something fresh and interesting to read or perform. Thirty respected poets, all fellows of the Royal Society of Literature, were invited to write a response to one or more of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets using any poetic form they chose. The result is a collection of interesting new poems on ageing, death, mortality, illness and love which force you to read the sonnets which inspired them in a refreshing new light. Thus we get Wendy Cope on the inevitability of what she sees in the mirror as a reflection on Sonnet 22, Michael Symmons Roberts imagining Sonnet 35 as if it were a play and much more, including contributions from Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough and PJ Kavanagh. Shakespeare’s plays are crucial to theatre in this country – and never more so than this year. Let’s give the sonnets the same status.
Ritual and Theatre, by Roger Grainger (Austin Macauley)
This is a strong, thoughtful read for acting students and other practitioners wanting to explore the links between theatre and religious rites, family or group rituals, and corporate human behaviour in general. Grainger is well placed to examine these issues: he’s been an actor (Old Vic Company) and is now an anthropologist and professor of theology (North West University, South Africa). Shakespeare is a particular interest and provides many of the examples. The writing is academic in tone but accessible and it’s perfectly possible (I did) to read the chapters as standalone essays. Chapter four is particularly relevant and compelling.
Plays from Vault: Five New Plays from Vault Festival (Nick Hern Books)
It’s always good to read plays that are really current, and NHB is on the button with Plays from Vault. The volume includes five of the best and most interesting plays staged in the tunnels beneath Waterloo station where work is innovative and prices low. The festival runs until March 6 and features more than 100 shows. Eggs by Florence Keith-Roach is a fine two-hander that poses some uncomfortable questions about gender disparity. Run, by Stephen Laughton, is a one-actor show about a Jewish teenager struggling to come to terms with an issue or two. Also in this collection are Camilla Whitehill’s Mr Incredible, Rosie Kellet’s Primadonna and Oli Forsyth’s Cornermen.
Three new play texts from Oberon Books
Nell Gwynn seems to be the flavour of the season. Not only do we have Gemma Arterton in Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwynn at the Apollo until 30 April in a transfer from The Globe, but we also have The Restoration of Nell Gwyn [sic] by Steve Trafford, which premiered at London’s Park Theatre last month with one more week to run until 20 February. Now published, it’s a two-hander that focuses on the relationship between Nell and her servant. It is well worth reading, especially if you can’t get to see it. Also hot off the press from Oberon are Clickbait by Milly Thomas and This Will End Badly by Rob Hayes. The former, which opened at Theatre503 last month, is a comedy exploring the world of online, home-made porn and the dangers of getting involved with it. This Will End Badly is a powerful male monologue that opened at Southwark Playhouse last month after an Edinburgh outing.
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