The text of the formal proceedings at the reception at the Theatre Museum, Covent Garden on 1st April 2006, with the judges' remarks.
Extracts from Judges speeches
Please note : this copy is based upon advance information supplied by the speakers. An updated version will be available in due course
After a welcome from Geoffrey Marsh, the Director of the Theatre Museum (who spoke briefly about the uncertain future of the Theatre Museum and present moves involving the Royal Opera House and perhaps other bodies to find a solution), Administrator of the Theatre Book Prize, Howard Loxton introduced the proceedings.
HOWARD LOXTON said
It is now nine years that the Society's Theatre Book Prize has been awarded. If you don't have a huge cash prize and a large publicity machine it is not easy to establish a prize like this. But I am happy to say that it is at last beginning to get noticed. Publishers are not only proudly announcing Winner of the Theatre Book Prize on book jackets, they are even mentioning short-listing of titles in their catalogues and this year I believe that there will be an increased press coverage of the prize.
For this I have to thank a number of people; the late Jack Reading who ran the prize in its first years, the publishers, without whose cooperation we could do nothing, the 27 judges we have had so far and the Theatre Museum where, from its second year, we have been able to hold all our presentations.
The Society for Theatre Research was one of the organisations leading the campain for a theatre museum and when it was eventually established we presented our own library and other materials to it. We have had a close association since. It is amazing that the V&A could even consider the closure of this museum and I am sure that many of you here share my hope that a sensible, and perhaps independent solution, can be found to its current problems. I hope that you all, along with the Society, Equity, Save London's Theatre, The Stage and other newspapers will make representations at every level to ensure that the future of this important institution is made safe.
But today we are here with the pleasant duty of announcing the winner of the STR Theatre Book Prize. So back to the books. There have not been quite so many this year as last - all those submitted are on display in the gallery - but they have been wide ranging. One: Actresses and Whores, looked at public ideas of theatrical morality and at prostitution as a form of performance. We had biographies of some of that book's subjects: Nell Gwynn, Charlotte Charke, Fanny Kemble and others of more modern actors, Prunella Scales, Ian McKellan and Olivier. There have been books on director Peter Brook, on the development of stage lighting design, on children's theatre. There have been studies of plays in production; a history of LIFT, of the Roundhouse and Open-Space theatres, and a handy handbook on theatre and musical hall buildings. This year I was pleased to see a number of books on music hall and one on circus - the prize covers all forms of theatre - two of those came from American academic publishers -- but I can't help wondering why another major American university press declined to enter what looked likely to be an important piece of research on the King's Theatre. I've not discovered it on any bookseller's shelves either, so I'll probably never know whether it could have been a real contender.
But, thanks again to all those publishers who made submissions. They include general imprints who do the occasional theatre books, publishers well-known for their theatre lists, academic presses and some very small independent publishers. The Theatre Book Prize was founded to encourage more and better theatre publishing and it is not the big publishers who necessarily make the biggest contribution.
I'd like to ask all publishers, large and small for more help? There seems to be an extremely rapid turnover in publishing staff - so do keep me informed about the right person to be in touch with in your company. Make sure I get catalogues and announcements of new titles. Each year a few titles slip through my net. Finally it is up to you to enter them.
Before we announce the winner, the judges are going to talk in more detail about the short list and some of their other favourite titles. This year we have theatre director and actress Yvonne Brewster, Jan Macdonald Professor Emerita of Glasgow University former Chair of the Citizens Theatre and now its Vice President as well as Vice President (Arts and Humanities) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and critic, columnist and writer Ruth Leon who gallantly stepped in when doctor's orders forced her husband and writing partner Sheridan Morley to withdraw. They've done a tough job very conscientiously. Not only have our meetings been a delight but, like all our judges, they've done it for nothing, out of their love of theatre. The Society is truly grateful to them. Thanks. So, first up, I would like to hand over to Yvonne Brewster. Yvonne...
YVONNE BREWSTER said
My job this morning to briefly speak on two of the six books short listed from among the many wonderful books we read.
I would, however, before doing so like to spend a few moments on three books which although they did not make the short list I found to be engaging, compulsive reading.
They are all quite modest in size but make up for this, in the focus which each displays.
Unleashing Britain: Theatre Gets Real by Jim Fowler
A well edited and researched book which, unlike some, sticks exactly to what it sets out to do and does it brilliantly throwing intense light on the years 1955 to 1964Š those crucial years in modern British Theatre, with some expert use of photo journalism.
Obedience Struggle and Revolt :David Hare's book of Essays is good stuff and immensely refreshing to get a peep in the uneasy heart of one of the most successful, continuing socialist, contemporary, British playwrights, through his fabulous, sometimes very funny, prose.
The third is by John Earl: British Theatres and Music Halls. A lovely little book which will probably find itself in the pocket of every person the least bit interested in the development of theatre buildings in this country. Sheer enthusiasm, totally supported by impeccable research.
Now, to the short listed books.
Apparently five is the more usual number but, this year there were six books which won fiercely argued places.
2005 was a year in which many 50th anniversaries were celebrated. Not least among these was Beckett's Waiting For Godot. Our short listed book is a superb slim volume in the rehearsal voyeur mode. It uses Peter Hall's 2005 production as a central trunk from which spring some cogent analysis of the international tidal wave caused by the good ship Godot, not to mention the continuing repercussions of the arrival of King metaphor on into the 21st century. The book is The Coming of Godot by Jonathan Croall.
The other short listed book is marvellous. A biography. Elucidating, written with a fierce but friendly critical edge. The author knows the constituency, knows his subject, knows the politics. One great plus is his style of writing. Easy to read. Compulsive not repulsive! Unlike some books submitted, it is written for today's theatre reading, theatre going public, and does not adopt the faintly spurious arch-ness of delivery sometimes mistaken for 'period'. The book examines the theory behind the enigma with due respect but is critically honest and forthright. We may have heard some of this before but never in such accessible style, for a style icon of 20th century British Theatre Peter Brook by Michael Kustow
RUTH LEON remarked
All the books I asked to talk about on our shortlist and beyond are, of course, theatre books. But the three I have chosen two on the shortlist, one narrowly missing it have all told me about more than their chosen subject within the theatrical context. They have all deepened my knowledge of our history and that of the city in which I was born and in which our theatre has flourished. In particular, this area, this centre of our particular war, this place where most of our playhouses are located, and where most of its practitioners have lived and worked, this Covent Garden, is miraculously illuminated in two of these wonderful books.
The actress Fanny Kemble may have spent much of her later life in America but she came from right here and here is where she made her reputation. On the next corner is the Kemble Arms, across the road is Kemble St.. This is Kemble country and Rebecca Jenkins's biography gives an unforgettable picture of what life was like for a working actress in the mid-nineteenth century.
The backstage rows, the choice of plays and parts, the business of theatre as well as its art, are carefully excavated here and the rivalries lovingly dissected. We learn from Jenkins about audiences and critics, and the politics of success and failure. And, of course, we learn about Fanny, a somewhat reluctant member of a profession which family connections made inevitable. Grand-daughter, daughter, niece, and sister of actors and actor/managers, Fanny really had no choice so it was fortunate she was good at it. She made her disastrous American marriage to get away from being her father's cash cow. Whenever he ran out of money, he organised another tour or season starring Fanny and by the time she reached her early 20s she was looking for a way out. She left the only thing she could rely on her acting talent and career for an unreliable husband and an American life to which she was unsuited and in which she was miserable.
The story of how she coped and what she then did is told with a novelist's skill which, of course, Jenkins is. But the bulk of this lovely biography is about her life in the theatre, about her distinguished family of actors, and about a Covent Garden world not so very different from the one right outside these doors.
There are lots of books, including some with my name on their spines, which are a waste of tree. Then, every now and then, along comes a book for which it is worth chopping down an entire forest. Such a book is James Shapiro's 1599: A Year In The Life Of Shakespeare. Shapiro is an American academic, a breed who we theatre writers avoid the way musicians avoid musicologists. Musicologists and theatre scholars usually fit into the category of people who know the ingredients intimately but haven't a clue how to make dinner. Consequently, despite his eminence, I had never read anything by James Shapiro before. What a revelation this book turned out to be.
In 1599, Shapiro says, forget "Plutarch's Lives" and "Hollingshed's Chronicles", if you want to know why the plays turned out the way they did, look at what was happening around him while Shakespeare was writing them. Look at what kind of town he came from, what London was like while he was living in it, how the aging Elizabeth's Court and her foreign policy affected what he saw around him, how the markets operated, the turmoil over Ireland and religion and the succession, the muddle over the newly adopted calendar which suddenly lost 11 days, thus making holidays all topsy-turvy. Look, he says, at the state of the roads, at what was being built, not least the new Globe Theatre in which Shakespeare was a partner, and what was being published and read and sold and by whom.
Along with a solid narrative, innovatively divided into the seasons of a single year, there are some wonderful side-trips. I now know exactly how many pieces of timber are required to build a playhouse and how to get to Stratford on horseback. It gives me enormous pleasure to know that where I park my car every Saturday morning to go to the market, outside the Clink prison, is where Shakespeare's lodgings were, I know the effect of Elizabeth's paranoia on the writing of plays and marvel anew at Shakespeare's skill that, unlike his friends Marlowe and Kidd, he never came under suspicion and was able to ply his trade as a practical man of the theatre until he himself decided to give it up. Shapiro decodes bits of dialogue I've puzzled over for years and gives me the tools to understand the political and social issues which Shakespeare had to disguise in the plays but that his audiences would immediately have recognised and translated for themselves.
By choosing a single year, 1599, Shapiro is able to show us a London and a theatrical world in detail. Further, he is able to introduce us to a Shakespeare in close-up whom we have only ever seen before in long-shot. I have been carrying this book around with me since I first bought it last year. It is probably the best book about Shakespeare, his life, his times, and his adopted city that I have ever read.
Before I stop talking, let me mention honourably a book which didn't quite make our short list. Charlotte Charke, née Cibber, lived 100 years before Fanny Kemble and 200 years after Shakespeare, and was also a central character in the theatre of her day. 18th century London was, in itself, a theatre and its citizens paraded in costume, playing out their own dramas for one another. Charlotte is Kathryn Shevelow's portrait of another theatrical dynasty through its most famous daughter, one who often appeared in public as well as in private dressed as a man, attracted marriage proposals from both men and women, and was as deliciously indiscreet as her time. This too is a book that consistently provides the reader with a Covent Garden life that is lively, real, and above all, theatrical.
PROFESSOR MACDONALD said of the short-listed books
Edith Hall and Fiona Macintosh. Greek Tragedy and the British Theatre, 1660-1914.(Oxford University Press)
This is a work of consummate scholarship. It is meticulously researched, perfectly documented and beautifully presented. But it has not found its way to the shortlist only because it is a model of academic writing, nor, although this is another mark in its favour, because it is eminently readable. The presentation and the reception of Greek tragedy in Britain is an important subject, and the authors address it very seriously indeed, but they go so much further than, to put it colloquially, 'what they say on the tin'. They make new connections, bringing to the reader, not just new facts, but new ideas. To take one example, and there are many, they unpick the skein of influences on Shaw and the 'New Drama' of the Gilbert Murray translations of Euripides, thus, in my view, adding a novel dimension to the work of Granville Barker at the Court. This is, in the precise sense of the word, an exciting book. Jeffrey Richards. Sir Henry Irving: a Victorian actor and his world. (Hambledon and London).
The year 2005 was the centenary of the death of Sir Henry Irving, whose prodigious, if idiosyncratic, acting talent and whose reign as actor-manager at the Lyceum Theatre conjoined to make him a colossus of the Victorian stage, a fact recognised by Queen Victoria who was 'very, very pleased' to dub him the first theatrical knight in 1895. A new biography of Irving is, therefore, timely. But Professor Richards' book is much more than a run-of-the-mill biography. With rigorous scholarship and elegant style, he illuminates his subject and the period in which he lived by providing a wide range of contextual material, covering, not only theatrical conditions, but aesthetics, religion, political history and contemporary cultural values, thus demonstrating how Irving was shaped by, and shaped, his world. This is an important contribution to theatre scholarship and to British nineteenth-century history.
She also commended
Brenda Assael. The Circus and Victorian Society. (University of Virginia Press)
A major attraction of this book for me is that in true acrobatic fashion, it succeeds in balancing perfectly on the tightropes of history, theory and practice, never allowing one line of enquiry to destabilise the rest. The theatricality of circus and the performative aspects of theatre are explored in a work which also addresses issues related to gender and child performers. Well documented and imaginatively contextualized, Dr Assael's book adds to the sum of knowledge and understanding of this fascinating topic.
Theatre and Performance Practices. General Editors: Graham Ley and Jane Milling. Published by Palgrave Macmillan
Chris Baugh. Theatre, performance and technology
Deirdre Heddon and Jane Milling. Devising performance
Helen Nicholson. Applied drama
Michael Wilson. Storytelling and theatre
The concept behind this series is an excellent one, and all four volumes published to date will be immensely useful in the teaching of theatre studies in universities at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. They will also be illuminating for practitioners and for general readers. The authors address complex issues with clarity, understanding and demonstrate a comprehensive grasp of theoretical principles in fields of enquiry that are pretty well under-researched. They are in many instances breaking new ground, and in others drawing together disparate sources into a coherent and organised argument. I am very pleased to recognise the value and quality of the series to date and to commend its editors and authors.
The winner was announced by actor Timothy West, CBE, well known for his work in the classical and popular theatre and his many television appearances. He is President of the Society for Theatre Research.
Since winning author James Shapiro was unable to attend the prize was accepted on his behalf by Professor Stanley Wells who read the following message from Mr Shapiro "I am deeply, deeply honoured to receiove the Theatre Book Prize and am only sorry that I cannot be here today to accept it in person.
I am also honored to find my work in the company of an extraordinary accomplishedgfroup of books about theatre...
Thouf the Theatre Book Prize has only been in existence for a few years, it has already had an unusually distinguished list of winners. I am very proud and a bit stunned to join the ranks of such past winners as Sir Richard Eyre and Peter Brook.
One of the reasons I most regret not being here today to accept the prize is that London is where I discovered theatre. In my late teens and into my early twenties I cam to London from my native Brooklyn every summer, usually after quitting some crummy job that provided just enough money to visit for a month and sleep in youth hostels or church basements in order to satisfy a great craving to see a play a day, two a day when there were matinees. The chance to see so many great plays and actors in London (and Stratford upon Avon too) in the 1970s and early 1980s changed my life: what I know about Shakespeare today, and what I write about him, is filtered through that experience.
Finally, I want to thank those at Faber especially Julian Loose, Lucy Owen and Henry Volans for helping to bring 1599: a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare to fruition. And I should also add that I would not be receiving this prize today without the generous and patient criticism I received while writing the books from great theatre historians like Reg Foakes and Stanley Wells. Thank you again this means a great deal to me."
Book Prize Archive
Jeffrey Richards' lecture: John Ruskin (February 2009)
12th May 2008