The Oxford Companion to Theatre & Performance
Edited by Dennis Kennedy
Oxford University Press £25
Dateline: 14th September, 2010
This weighty and very economically priced volume, described by its
publishers as an "essential guide to the world of drama and performance",
is very much a dipping and reference book for lovers of all that takes
place on stages around the globe.
With over 2,400 entries, the majority of which are devoted to practitioners
of every type, though genres also make a strong contribution, there
is something for everybody to delight in or learn about.
This Companion, which replaces in a single volume the encyclopaedia
of the same name published in 2003, is one of those tomes that readers
can innocently open at any page and find much of interest.
The scope of the cut-down encyclopaedia is impressive, since not only
are the more serious topics such as Shakespeare and Tragedy considered
but also Lionel Bart, Marie Tempest and the Marx Brothers. Similarly,
the entries bring us right up to date, featuring contemporary practitioners
and genres such as Conor McPherson, Suzan-Lori Parks, Calixto Bieito
and the Wooster Group, as well as Multimedia Performance, although strangely
neither In Yer Face Theatre nor the more modern Monsterists get a look
Unusually for a British publication, the book takes a global view so
that the relatively well-known Provincetown Players, Philip Prowse,
Jonathan Pryce and Punch and Judy share a double page with Stanislawa
Przybyszewska, Nadezhda Ptushkina and Fabia Puigserver, respectively
Polish and Russian playwrights and a Catalan designer.
As a reference book, the Companion is not as comprehensive as the Encyclopaedia
that it replaces, which is now only available online. However, it does
give readers a quick briefing on almost any theatrical performance subject
under the sun, which will prove to be incredibly useful for academics,
students, critics and other practitioners wishing to get up to speed.
For the most part the entries, which are generally written by erudite
university professors, are both informative and readable. In each case,
they provide at the very least an overview of a particular topic and,
if not completely removing the unintelligible gibberish that some of
that ilk are inclined to use, try not to overwhelm readers with it.
It has to be said that not all of the contributors manage to wear their
learning as lightly as the general reader might desire but that is inevitable
consequence of a book compiled from so many different sources.
There is also on occasion an odd tendency when using examples of practitioners'
work to ignore the more famous and significant or give them less prominent
placement that one might expect.
All in all, The Oxford Companion to Theatre & Performance
is a work that everyone who is serious about the theatre should have
at hand. The main reason for purchasing this attractively produced volume
is likely to be that, in addition to covering most of what one would
expect, it provides much information that is not immediately available
elsewhere, especially about an extremely wide range of people and matters
outside the English-speaking world.
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