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Books for winter evenings

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During the Christmas and new year break I have – among other festive pursuits – been catching up with some of the useful and interesting performing arts training and information books which arrived in December.

I was delighted, for instance to see the 2014 edition of Simon Dunmore’s excellent Actors’ Handbook (Bloomsbury)  packed to the gunwhales as usual with detailed, reasonably up-to-date, information about agents, casting directors, training opportunities, disabled actors, companies producing work for young audiences and much, much more. I enjoyed the new essay (Hugh Osborne) about starting later in life and I read Ian Kellgren’s piece about Drama UK and Quality Assured with interest. You can get it as an ebook if you prefer although, because it’s such a useful ongoing reference book, I like the book’s handy physical presence between bookends on the corner of my desk with (just) half a dozen other indispensable volumes.

Also from Bloomsbury comes Paul Elsam’s biography of Stephen Joseph “Theatre Pioneer and Provocateur” with forward by Alan Ayckbourn – of course. Joseph, whose parents were publisher Michael Joseph and actor Hermione Gingold, died in 1967, widely regarded as a crucial theatrical “missionary” and inspirer of, for example, Pinter as well as Ayckbourn. Elsam’s biography isn’t chronological although it begins with a helpful timeline. Rather it treats its subject thematically and uncovers Joseph’s arguably forgotten legacy through archives and interviews with people such as Ayckbourn, Trevor Griffiths and Ben Kingsley. Elsam, actor, director and teacher, also has a lot to say about the quality, importance and influence of Joseph’s work. This time you might do better to read it as an e-book because the hardback sent me by the publisher is pricey and clearly meant mainly for libraries.

So You Want to Write Radio Drama? By Claire Grove and Stephen Wyatt is a useful new addition to NHB’s eclectic So You Want series. A radio dramatist and a radio play producer, the authors take you step by step through the process, from defining what radio drama is and how it works, to creating your own and, most importantly, the practicalities of marketing your work. It’s an inspiring book which left me thinking that perhaps during this bright, shiny new year I ought to hone my creative skills and have a go myself.

I liked Natalie Burt’s refreshingly candid Acting: Cut the Crap, Cue the Truth published by Oberon too (although, fear not, I’m definitely not going to take up acting). Written by a young jobbing actor who graduated from GSA in 2006, it’s a book which deals very honestly with the challenges of career decisions and different sorts of work, as well as flat sharing, finance and staying sane when you’re not working. It’s a good read as well as being very informative – and occasionally poignant – because she has a sparky and infectious sense of humour.

And finally to a book which arrived just before Christmas and to which I contributed myself. The Magic that is Gilbert and Sullivan is published by International Gilbert and Sullivan Festivals and is a compilation of the many and varied contributions to the three day education symposium at Buxton last summer. Apart from me banging on about why G&S should be done in schools (but, on the whole, isn’t) you get the delightful Ian Bradley on Sullivan’s training as a chorister and, in a separate item, entertainingly discoursing on Gilbert’s politics. Also Alex Scutt on the Astronomer Royal (mentioned in Pirates), Diana Burleigh on the importance – or not – of “tradition” and several takes on the long term influence of G&S – among many other things. The 27 items are an eclectic, informative and enjoyable collection. I’m quite proud to have taken part, actually.

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