The judges for the STR Theatre Book Prize for 2002 were
Professor Stanley Wells Emeritus Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Vice Chairman of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. General editor of the Oxford Shakespeare series and author of many other books and articles on Shakespeare and other theatrical subjects.
Michael Coveney Drama Critic of the Daily Mail, who has also written books on Glasgow Citizens' Theatre, Maggie Smith, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Mike Leigh.
Jonathan Croall Author of a biography of John Gielgud, of titles in the Royal National Theatre's Plays in Production series and editor and contributor to RNT magazines
On March 5th 2003 they announced a short list of the following titles
(Alphabetically by author)
Jane Austen and the Theatre by Paula Byrne
(Hambledon & London)
Travelling Players in Shakespeare's England by Siobhan Keenan
Naked Thoughts That Roam About by John McGrath
(Nick Hern Books)
by Christopher Morash
(Cambridge University Press)
Not Shakespeare by Richard W. Schoch
(Cambridge University Press)
Christopher Morash for A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000
Margaret Benton, shortly to retire from the Directorship of the Theatre Museum, welcomed guests on behalf of the Museum and Howard Loxton, the member of the STR committee who acts as adminstrator for the Prize, greeted them on behalf of the Society for Theatre Research. As well as thanking the Museum for its hospitality Howard also expressed the Society's thanks to Margaret Benton for the contribution she has made to the development of the Museum and for maintaining a close and friendly relationship with the STR.
Before the Society's President, Timothy West opened the traditional envelope to discover the winner, the judges talked about their short-listed titles. The full text of their speeches is given below.
Professor Stanley Wells spoke first: Siobhan Keenan's Travelling Players in Shakespeare's England is one of the increasing number of valuable scholarly publications to come from Palgrave Macmillan. It earns its place on our short list partly for the originality of its subject matter. During the past two or three decades, scholars of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre have become increasingly aware of the depths of our ignorance about the part played by travelling players---including the major, London-based companies---on the national theatrical scene. Awareness of ignorance is the first step towards the acquisition of knowledge, and a big step forward in the investigation of theatre in the provinces was taken in the 1970s with the founding of REED---Records of Early English Drama---project, a wonderful benefaction of Canadian scholarship to all students of early British drama. Painstakingly assembling, mostly from manuscript sources, all records of any activity that can even remotely be regarded as dramatic, county by county, city by city, the contributors have amassed an astonishing array of primary material, in, so far, fifteen massive volumes. The riches of this series will form a groundwork for research for many decades, perhaps centuries, to come and, as I am sure Dr Keenan would be the first to acknowledge, her book would have been impossible to write without it. She has made extensive use of both published and unpublished REED material, and many other resources, in her remarkable study of professional theatre outside London. Until recently, received wisdom had it that during the Shakespearian period there were no professional playhouses outside the capital. Dr Keenan however is able to enlighten us about playhouses in Bristol, Preston and York. She has scoured the country for surviving buildings that were used for performances---guildhalls, churches, schoolrooms, country houses among them---which she describes in exemplary detail. Few scholars can ever have put a tape measure to such excellent use. Her camera has been at the ready, too-- most of the photographs illustrating her research are her own. She does not scorn other performative arts than the dramatic. We hear, for instance, of the exploits of acrobats in Shrewsbury in 1590:
Michael Coveney followed:
Our final book on the short list is Naked Thoughts That Roam About by the late John McGrath, a collection of articles, interviews and speeches -- some of them previously unpublished, many out of print -- that amounts to an outstanding and vital memorial to one of the truly significant figures of our recent theatre. John died last year, but not his impact.
A colleague, well, Michael Billington actually, recently wondered why the contemporary theatre was so short on political fire and engagement, why we were producing no US for Iraq or Marat Sade at the RSC.
The historical importance of this book constitutes the answer. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a counter culture, a seedbed of intellectual engagement plugged in to both an artistic uprising and the aspirations of the politicised working class. McGrath was a crucial figure in this phenomenon. He was a participating witness to the evenements in Paris in 1968, where the student protest movement flourished in the context of widespread industrial strike action by ten million French workers. The Odeon Theatre was occupied.
Subsequently, McGrath's work at the Liverpoool Everyman with Alan Dossor in the early 1970s and with the group he founded, 7:84 Scotland, was much more than mere fringe theatre. It was part of a European tradition exemplified by two of McGrath's heroes, Bertolt Brecht and Ariane Mnouchkine, and directly influenced by the pioneering work of Joan Littlewood in Manchester and on tour round Britain just after the war.
This volume, superbly edited by Nadine Holdsworth, charts McGrath's career chronologically and gathers such previously uncollected material as articles in Black Dwarf and Encore-- there are no such publications today -- unpublished interviews, and speeches at TUC conferences and David Edgar's wonderful Birmingham Theatre Conferences of the early 1990s. Crucially, it is knit together with a linking, retrospective commentary by the ailing McGrath himself, an ingredient which lends both tremendous poignancy and authority to the book.
For instance: his company was cut off by the Arts Council funders led by a popular joke figure of the day, William Rees-Mogg, on "artistic grounds" and as a preface to an unpublished, Orwellian lecture on democracy and jargon, McGrath says: "Conferences were held, protests staged, many outraged voices raised but if Thatcher cold crush the miners, she could brush us aside without a thought. However, she was soon to outdo herself, in her arrogance she lived out her own hubris. But that was not the end of the story. The egregious John Major stalked the floor. And words lost their meaning.
"We did a week's workshop on Language, inspired by the Thatcherite ability to take words and make them have exactly the opposite meaning to what they seemed to mean. Like "freedom" and "opportunity" -- I dare say John would add "liberation" today -- "The threat was not only to language -- it was to democracy."
The book traces the arc of his career from Oxford to the early days of Z Cars on television, through the important history of 7:84 in both Scottish and English manifestations, his role as a film producer, his engagement with Scottish politics, his sense of fun and his imperishable integrity. He was a truly wonderful man, a giant among careerist theatrical pygmies of the establishment, and this book a just and highly readable memorial.
Judging this award has been a rare pleasure, even if the avalanche of material sometimes evoked a phrase of Max Beerbohm's uttered when he retired after his stint as a drama critic in succession to Shaw on the Saturday Review: "I have acquired that most melancholy of all possessions, a theatrical library."
I would like to thank not only my fellow judges, Stanley Wells and Jonathan Croall, for their wit, wisdom and company, but also and perhaps especially Howard Loxton for his discreet and dedicated chairmanship.
Howard not only has a fund of experience and knowledge that emerged, sideways almost, over a couple of highly enjoyable lunches, but a real gift of pointing you in certain directions without seeming to do so. I think I can speak for both Stanley and Jonathan in saying how proud we are of this outstanding short-list, and I would like now to invite Timothy West, currently enjoying such success as a touching, funny and revelatory King Lear at the Old Vic, to announce the winner....
Timothy West then announced the winner as Christopher Morash for his A History of Irish Theatre. Dr Morash, who is Director of Media Studies in the Department of English at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth was then presented with the award and made a brief speech expressing his surprise at being the winner.
Book Prize Archive
12th May 2008