CHANGING STAGES: A View of British and American Theatre in the Twentieth Century

Richard Eyre, Author, Nicholas Wright, Author, Nicholas Wright, Joint Author
Richard Eyre, Author, Nicholas Wright, Author, Nicholas Wright, Joint Author . Knopf $40 (400p) ISBN 978-0-375-41203-5
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A highly personal and encapsulated overview of British and world theater (with particular focus on the American scene), this breezy, copiously illustrated book was written as preparation for a BBC-TV series, Changing Stages. Eyre, director of London's Royal National Theatre, and Wright, an actor and playwright (of the hit Mrs. Klein and others), know all the inside poop on English playwrights like Noel Coward and Terrence Rattigan (about whom they are candid to the point of bitchiness) and on most of the major English Shakespeare productions of the last 100 years. A chapter on Bertolt Brecht, entitled "B.B." is a vigorous presentation of that still-controversial writer, and the book is particularly good on the various waves of British playwrighting, from the Angry Young Men of the 1950s and '60s to trendy phenomena like Patrick Marber's Closer and Mark Ravenhill's saucily titled Shopping and Fucking. Throughout, there is a keen attention to developments and strong personal reactions to everything, even if the point of view on the American scene often seems more remote (as when claiming that the Broadway version of South Pacific presented "real, indeed contemporary life")—though faves of the British stage like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller come through clearly. (Aug.)

Forecast: The musings of these two very well-informed Brit theater fanatics are a sure bet for any midsize or larger collection on world theater, although its skimpy index and lack of bibliography may disappoint some academic readers, and a "Calendar of Notable Events" offered as appendix is so elliptical as to be more jarring than useful. These caveats aside, enthusiasts and the uninitiated alike will, with a nod to Joe Orton, prick up their ears.

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