The text (prepared in advance) of the formal proceedings at the reception at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on 7th April 2009, with the judges' remarks.
A recording of the event is available at TheatreVoice
IAN HERBERT, Chairman of the Society for Theatre Research welcomed guests and and introduced:
HOWARD LOXTON, Chair of the Judging Panel
We did not have quite so many to read this year, under sixty, little more than one a week - except that most of them arrived after October and that revs up the pace. I can't claim we all read each one from cover to cover but they did all get very serious consideration. Among the joys of this job are the surprises at what tickles a particular judge's fancy - sorry, no revelations, but I long since gave up trying to predict a winner.
They certainly had a very eclectic batch to chose from in 2008 as you can see from the display. In a moment the judges are going to talk about the short list and some other of their choices but I'd like to mention a few others to show the range.
Biographies ranged from Jonathan Croall's carefully researched fat volume on the great and much loved Sybil Thorndike, from Haus, to a slim paperback on Ira Aldridge. Martin Hoyle's little book, from Hansib, offers no new research to make it a real condender for the prize but it would be a useful for introducting young people to an icon of Black British culture. Autobiographies from living stars included intriguing glimpses of Julie Walters' early years at Liverpool Everyman in That's Another Story, from Weidenfeld, while Christopher Biggins gave us plenty of giggles in Just Biggins from John Blake, along with Craig Revel Horwood's glittering balls from Michael O'Mara - and I personally particularly enjoyed Leigh Lawson's memoir The Dream - An Actor's Story from Oberon, which, of course, is built around his experience of working on that play.
From an American academic press - Iowa - came a study of the making of reputations in London theatre while, from Bristol, Intellect sent us Bringing Down the House, Olivia Turnbull's study of the closures brought by funding problems among British theatres, and Cambridge University Press sent us Shakespeare's Globe, a collection of essays that record and reflect on the experiments in 'original practices' at the Southbank playhouse.
The Globe is famous enough to attract a major publisher but the history of our provincial theatres often relies upon the small independent publishers and local presses. It is not often that they end up prize-winners but they do a valuable job in putting things on permanent record that would otherwise be hard to find. This year, for instance we had Ian Scleater's book on the Palace Theatre, Watford, from Atlantic Publishing, Graeme Smith's on the Theatre Royal Glasgow from Glasgow Publications and the Society for Theatre Research itself co-published Don Chapman's Oxford Playhouse with Hertfordshire University Press, for the Society's own publication programme is established to make available titles that otherwise might never get into print, and which all members automatically receive.
But before I am tempted to start a full-blown commercial for STR I am going to hand over to the judges. I am glad to say they never came to blows over their decisions and though we ended up with one more on the short-list than the official number I never had to use my casting vote. First then I give you director and choreographer Omar Okai:
One of the first books of the year that made a big impression on me was Transnational Exchange in Early Modern Theater - I know it doesn't exactly trip off the tongue - published by Ashgate. It is a collection of essays edited by Robert Henke and Eric Nicholson and I was amazed how engaged I was by this look at international influences, the representation of the foreign and the touring companies of what I have learned to call 'early modern theatre.'
Much of my own theatre career has been to do with dance and I was a little disappointed that Bloomsbury Ballerina, Judith Mackrell's authoritative biography of Lydia Lopokova from Weidenfeld & Nicolson did not tell us more about the ballet of the time, it was a surprise to discover how limited her dance career had been for someone so well known. On the other hand Ballet In the Blitz a posthumous autobiography by Mona Inglesby is a real find. Put together from existing material by Kay Hunter and published by Groundnut Publishing, another of those little publishers Howard was talking about, I think it provides great insight into the early years of touring Ballet Companies, something which is so taken for granted now, but her International Ballet, despite having a very tiny budget, brought the classical dance to the masses and cut out all that stupid snobbery which really still prevails. I think it deserves its place in dance school libraries, just because of its historical references.
The Golden Generation, edited by Dominic Shellard and published by the British Library, is made up of articles and interviews by those involved in the Theatre Oral History project which the British Library has been running in partnership with Sheffield University. It focuses on interviews from people who have worked in almost every aspect of the theatre from 1945 to 1968, large part of it gives a great insight into the development of the Theatre Royal, Stratford in east London, a place where I have the pleasure to work, but also to the Fringe and the West End. The interviews are frank, funny and sometimes very raw, giving knowledge and inspiration, I believe for anyone who may be already treading the boards or mad enough to want to start. It also connects with television and how that shaped the way we work in performance today.
The Sound Of Theatre by David Collison, published by PLASA, also deals with television and theatre...... did you notice how I tried to give a slick little link there ....no..... I'll just plough on. Anyway this book is a must I think for any body training in that technical side of things in live performance. I always think sound is sometimes overlooked. Its a very neat book showing the early use of sound right up to the high tech rock concerts and the demands now made of a good sound, but of course they cannot always work miracles.
One book I had a real affection for and that I feel allows the new generation of theatre-goers to express their life and needs - mainly worries it seems - is Verbatim Verbatim from Oberon. Its editors Will Hammond and Dan Steward interviewed many of the people who have been creating what we have come to call verbatim theatre. I have seen quite a few pieces over the last few years by young performers, writers and directors and they all they all seem to use this form of theatre to react to what is happening "now" in the present, which they feel needs to be told, it gives a clear uninterrupted honest dialogue for the new voice of theatre.
Thank you for listening and I hope you liked the kilt, Howard said I could wear it, for a bit of "eye candy."
And now I would like to hand over to my fellow judge: Professor Kate Newey of the University of Birmingham. Kate -
PROF. KATHERINE NEWEY
I was particularly struck by this range of new research and writing about Irish theatre. I wondered if the recent peace process has enabled theatre scholars, amongst others, to revisit long-held assumptions about Anglo-Irish relations with new energy. I have to say, though, that I had some doubts about the imperialistic implications of a prize for books about 'British theatre' including books about Irish theatre. But actually, the continuing discussion of the relationship between Ireland and mainland Britain is still one of the drivers of interest in the Irish theatre. And having lived in Australia for some time, I'm quite acutely aware of the ways in which the old British Empire still affects its subjects - and former subjects - in the 21st century. And now, we are seeing how those former subjects speak back to the Empire.
On the topic of theatre and national culture, I want also to mention Amelia Kritzer's work, Political Theatre in Post-Thatcher Britain (Palgrave Macmillan), and Steve Wilmer's collection of essays from across Europe, National Theatres in a Changing Europe (Palgrave Macmillan) - both books which look at the ways in which theatre responds so quickly and so concretely to change. Of all the arts, theatre is, I think, the most responsive to the texture of our everyday lives. In this respect, I found reading Bill McDonnell's book, Theatres of the Troubles (University of Exeter Press), a moving experience. I think it's an object lesson in how to write about recent events, and the people who lived through them, within a broader historical frame. Bill's combination of shrewd analysis after the event, archival work, and his vivid descriptions of performing and working in and with Belfast & Derry communities, is always compelling. I think Bill has succeeded in offering a very personal account, within a work of deep research and thoughtful analysis. In this day, when we think we are sick of politics, he also writes of political action through theatre, and reminds us how much the big questions which we might think are out of reach for us to change, do affect our lives. And he reminds us that we can be involved in that change. I think this book is a handbook for political theatre activists everywhere.
I don't think my fellow judges will mind me saying that we were all quite surprised at our nomination of Patrick Lonergan's Theatre and Globalisation for the short list. Each of us recounted how we picked it up, expecting difficult concepts, expressed in the highly technical language of economics and political theory, and with not much to speak to us as working theatre practitioners or scholars, only to find that each of us was gripped by the book. For me, it spoke to so much of what is current in theatre as an industry; and indeed, reinforces what I say as a theatre historian - that the theatre always has been a globalised international industry. Lonergan discusses the ways in which Irish theatre is a text-book example of an apparently unique national culture, marketed internationally. He introduces sophisticated ideas, with clarity and humour, and identifies the ways in which all of us think about the global and the local at the same time. I found that the week after reading this book, I was already quoting his arguments to my theatre students. I know that he has to say about the processes and results of globalisation of Irish theatre will keep me thinking for some time to come.
Now I am going to hand over to my colleague, theatre critic of the Financial Times, Ian Shuttleworth.
This is the territory covered by Jane Goodall in her book Stage Presence, from Routledge. She not only surveys various historical concepts such as genius, mesmerism, drawing power and so forth, but takes as her examples individuals ranging from the theatrical pantheon such as Garrick, Kean, Irving and Brando through scientific or pseudo-scientific figures like Mesmer and Tesla to the likes of David Bowie, Johnny Rotten and Edna Everage.
Goodall also explores the cross-fertilisation between lexicons of poetry and science, of performer, performance and audience, and of the immediate moment and timelessness. After reading her book we may scarcely be any nearer a taxonomy or a quantitative approach to this mysterious quality - "charisma", "magnetism" and a host of other terms have signified components of the idea - but we have a much more complete sense of what it is that we are groping towards and the multifarious areas in which we are groping.
Goodall's investigation covers not only the sense itself, but also accounts of the phenomenon, and the usually only partial ways in which they convey an impression of this elusive property according to the background from which a particular perspective emerges. Some accounts, however inadequate they may be to conveying the entirety of the experience, still sound down the ages. I was recently asked what I would choose if I could travel anywhere, at any time, to see any piece of theatre. To my surprise, after reading this year's award submissions, I found myself answering that my wish would be to see Henry Irving performing The Bells, the production which seems to have been considered the greatest dramatic realisation of the actor's personal powers, even regardless of less than epochally meritorious material.
Irving is on the one hand a towering icon, on the other an indication of how rapidly living memory passes into historical mystique. It is less than two ordinary lifetimes since his heyday, but any feeling sense of his performances has been diluted and pressed into the ink of scholarly pages. Richard Foulkes' Henry Irving: A Re-evaluation of the Pre-eminent Victorian Actor Manager from Ashgate. This is a useful contemporary summation of the actor's career and reputation, but it was its misfortune to appear in the same batch of award candidates as Michael Holroyd's A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and Their Remarkable Families, from Chatto and Windus.
The multiple biography is a slippery enough project to pull off even when considering a conventional, nuclear and lineal family. How much more awkward, then, when considering the lives, extended families and relationships of Irving and Ellen Terry: not simply blood relatives such as Terry's son Edward Gordon Craig but lovers like Edward William Godwin, the father of Craig and his sister Edy.
In the field of biography Holroyd is, of course, one of the guv'nors. He combines sedulous research with an immensely readable style, with the result that his subjects seem that much more immediate to us. A similar immediacy is achieved by Peter Gill's slim essay-cum-memoir Apprenticeship, from Oberon, in which he accompanies a personal tour d'horizon of the theatrical vista in the watershed period of the late 1950s and early 1960s with annotated extracts from his own rehearsal diaries of William Gaskill's 1962 RSC production of Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. It is the individual perspective which refertilises territory that has been traversed so many times before.
A whole package of brief investigations - thirty-one in all, arranged alphabetically from Bergman to Zeffirelli - are contained in The Routledge Companion To Directors' Shakespeare, in which editor John Russell Brown asks his contributors each to consider a handful of specific productions by their respective subjects. In a period when the decentring of the text is gaining ground in British theatre, it is heartening to find that, in a way, the work of Shakespeare constitutes a +lingua franca+ for practitioners ranging from Yukio Ninagawa to Robert Lepage, from Max Reinhardt to Barrie Rutter. But in choosing our shortlist - which we decided, unusually, to expand from five titles to six - it was Goodall's and Holroyd's books which seemed to us to contribute more to our understanding and appreciation of theatre.
To announce the winner and present the prize I am delighted to introduce someone whose work has ranged across both books and theatre for he is a published poet, short story writer and author on theatre topics as well as being a dramatist, a producer, a director and an actor. Currently he is having a great success appearing at that other Theatre Royal in the Haymarket in his own amazing production of On the Waterfront. I give you Steven Berkoff!
STEVEN BERKOFF then announced the winner: Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era, by Patrick Lonergan. (Further text to follow as it becomes available.)
When discussing some of the books entered, judge Kate Newey said of this book:
"We were all quite surprised at our nomination of Patrick Lonergan's Theatre and Globalisation for the short list. Each of us recounted how we picked it up, expecting difficult concepts, expressed in the highly technical language of economics and political theory, and with not much to speak to us as working theatre practitioners or scholars, only to find that each of us was gripped by the book. For me, it spoke to so much of what is current in theatre as an industry; and indeed, reinforces what I say as a theatre historian - that the theatre always has been a globalised international industry. Lonergan discusses the ways in which Irish theatre is a text-book example of an apparently unique national culture, marketed internationally. He introduces sophisticated ideas, with clarity and humour, and identifies the ways in which all of us think about the global and the local at the same time."
Patrick Lonergan teaches in the English Department at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
We hope to have a recording of the event shortly available on www.theatrevoice.com.
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