Details of the shortlisted titles

These are the publisher's descriptions of their own books; we won't hear what the judges have to say about them until 18 June.

Art of the Artistic Director: Conversations with Leading Practitioners by Christopher Haydon

How do you decide what stories an audience should hear? How do you make your theatre stand out in a crowded and intensely competitive marketplace? How do you make your building a home for artistic risk and innovation, while ensuring the books are balanced? It is the artistic director's job to answer all these questions, and many more. Yet, despite the central role that these people play in the modern theatre industry, very little has been written about what they do or how they do it.

In The Art of the Artistic Director, Christopher Haydon (former artistic director of the Gate Theatre, 'London's most relentlessly ambitious theatre'—Time Out) compiles a fascinating set of interviews that get to the heart of what it is to occupy this unique role. He speaks to twenty of the most prominent and successful artistic directors in the US and UK, including: Oskar Eustis (Public Theater, New York), Diane Paulus (American Repertory Theater, Boston), Rufus Norris (National Theatre, London) and Vicky Featherstone (Royal Court Theatre, London), uncovering the essential skills and abilities that go into making an accomplished artistic director.

The only book of its kind available, The Art of the Artistic Director includes a foreword by Michael Grandage, former artistic director of the Sheffield Crucible and the Donmar Warehouse in London.

Christopher Haydon is Artistic Director of the Rose Theatre, Kingston, formerly Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre. Recent productions have included Macbeth at the Royal Exchange and Remains of the Day at Northampton Royal & Derngate. His production of On the Exhale at the Traverse won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival.

The Birth of Modern Theatre—Rivalry, Riots, and Romance in the Age of Garrick by Norman S Poser

The Birth of Modern Theatre: Rivalry, Riots, and Romance in the Age of Garrick is a vivid description of the eighteenth-century London theatre scene—a time when the theatre took on many of the features of our modern stage. A natural and psychologically based acting style replaced the declamatory style of an earlier age. The theatres were mainly supported by paying audiences, no longer by royal or noble patrons. The press determined the success or failure of a play or a performance. Actors were no longer shunned by polite society, some becoming celebrities in the modern sense.

The dominant figure for thirty years was David Garrick, actor, theatre manager and playwright, who, off the stage, charmed London with his energy, playfulness, and social graces. No less important in defining eighteenth-century theatre were its audiences, who considered themselves full-scale participants in theatrical performances; if they did not care for a play, an actor or ticket prices, they would loudly make their wishes known, sometimes starting a riot.

This book recounts the lives—and occasionally the scandals—of the actors and theatre managers and weaves them into the larger story of the theatre in this exuberant age, setting the London stage and its leading personalities against the background of the important social, cultural, and economic changes that shaped eighteenth-century Britain.

The Birth of Modern Theatre brings all of this together to describe a moment in history that sowed the seeds of today’s stage.

Norman Poser is a lawyer and Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn Law School. Previous books include Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason and Escape: A Jewish Scandinavian Family in the Second World War. His research on the period for Lord Mansfield led him to this book.

Dark Star—A Biography of Vivien Leigh by Alan Strachan

Vivien Leigh was perhaps the most iconic actress of the twentieth century. As Scarlett O'Hara and Blanche Du Bois, she took on some of the most pivotal roles in cinema history. Yet she was also a talented theatre actress with West End and Broadway plaudits to her name. In this ground-breaking new biography, Alan Strachan provides a completely new full-life portrait of Leigh, covering both her professional and personal life.

Using previously unseen sources from her archive, recently acquired by the V&A, he sheds new light on her fractious relationship with Laurence Olivier, based on their letters and diaries, as well as on the bipolar disorder, which so affected her later life and work. Revealing new aspects of her early life as well as providing glimpses behind-the-scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, this book provides the essential and comprehensive life-story of one of the twentieth century's greatest actresses.

Alan Strachan is a theatre director who has directed plays in New York, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, but the majority of his work has been in London. He was Artistic Director of the Greenwich Theatre in London for over a decade and has worked with, amongst others, Sir Michael Redgrave, Penelope Keith, Maureen Lipman, Sir Michael Gambon and Sir Alec Guinness. He came to early prominence as the director of Alan Ayckbourn and he been involved with Ayckbourn's theatre at Scarborough for many years.

His first book was Secret Dreams, the authorised biography of Michael Redgrave, followed by Putting it On, a life of the renowned theatrical impresario Sir Michael Codron.

An Illustrated History of British Theatre and Performance by Robert Leach

Volume One: From the Romans to the Enlightenment; Volume Two: From the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Age

An Illustrated History of British Theatre and Performance chronicles the history and development of theatre from the Roman era to the present day. As the most public of arts, theatre constantly interacts with changing social, political and intellectual movements and ideas and Robert Leach’s masterful work restores to the foreground of this evolution the contributions of women, gay people and ethnic minorities, as well as the theatres of the English regions and of Wales and Scotland.

Highly illustrated chapters trace the development of theatre through major plays from each period; evaluations of playwrights; contemporary dramatic theory; acting and acting companies; dance and music; the theatre buildings themselves; and the audience, while also highlighting enduring features of British theatre, from comic gags to the use of props.

The first volume spans from the earliest forms of performance to the popular theatres of high society and the Enlightenment, tracing a movement from the outdoor and fringe to the heart of the social world. The Illustrated History acts as an accessible, flexible basis for students of the theatre, and for pure fans of British theatre history there could be no better starting point.

Volume Two of An Illustrated History of British Theatre and Performance leads its readers from the drama and performances of the Industrial Revolution to the latest digital theatre. Moving from Punch and Judy, castle spectres and penny showmen to Modernism and Postdramatic Theatre, Leach’s second volume triumphantly completes a collated account of all the British Theatre History knowledge anyone could ever need.

Robert Leach is a poet, playwright and theatre practitioner. He has directed plays in Russia and Britain, taught at Birmingham, Edinburgh and Cumbria universities and published six collections of poetry, as well as pamphlets and chapbooks and more than a dozen books of theatre history and theory.

Playwriting—Structure, Character, How and What to Write by Stephen Jeffreys

For over two decades, Stephen Jeffreys's remarkable series of workshops attracted writers from all over the world and shaped the ideas of many of today's leading playwrights and theatre-makers. Now, with this inspiring, highly practical book, you too can learn from these acclaimed Masterclasses.

Playwriting reveals the various invisible frameworks and mechanisms that are at the heart of each and every successful play. Drawing on a huge range of sources, it deconstructs playwriting into its constituent parts, and offers illuminating insights into:

  • Structure – an in-depth exploration of the fundamental elements of drama, enabling you to choose instinctively the most effective structure for your play
  • Character – advice on how to generate and write credible characters by exploring their three essential dimensions: story, breadth and depth
  • How to Write – techniques for writing great dialogue, dynamic scenes and compelling subtext, including how to improve your writing by approaching it from unfamiliar directions
  • What to Write – how to adopt different approaches to finding your material, how to explore the fundamental 'Nine Stories', and how to evaluate the potential of your ideas

Written by a true master of the craft, this authoritative guide will provide playwrights at every level of experience with a rich array of tools to apply to their own work.

This edition, edited by Maeve McKeown, includes a Foreword by April De Angelis.

Stephen Jeffreys, who died in 2018, is probably best known for The Libertine, his play about the Restoration poet John Wilmot, the debauched Earl of Rochester. He wrote for Paines Plough, the Tricycle and the RSC but was most closely associated with the Royal Court Theatre (first working there as an assistant electrician in 1975).

Shakespeare Spelt Ruin—The Life of Frederick Balsir Chatterton, Drury Lane’s Last Bankrupt by Robert Whelan

Frederick Balsir Chatterton (1834–1886) ran the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from 1862 to 1879. Drury Lane had long been regarded as the National Theatre and its manager was supposed to make it the home of the ‘legitimate’ or serious drama. In the absence of a subsidy to cushion the losses of ‘legitimate’ plays that failed to cover their costs, the manager was in an unenviable position. Chatterton was the last person in charge of Drury Lane to take seriously its claim to National Theatre status. He was also, not coincidentally, the last in a long line of Drury Lane bankrupts. His famous aphorism that “Shakespeare spelt ruin and Byron bankruptcy” was literally true in his own case and could have been the epitaph of many of his predecessors.

This book, the first biography of Chatterton, describes his attempts to make Drury Lane the home of the poetic drama with the assistance of a small band of supporters: his father Edward Chatterton, one of the most popular front-of-house staff in the West End; John Oxenford, dramatic critic of The Times; E L Blanchard, author of the Drury Lane pantomimes for thirty-eight years; William Beverley, the greatest scene-painter of his generation; Andrew Halliday, who could turn long novels into gripping plays; and Charles Lamb Kenney, Chatterton’s faithful ‘literary advisor’ who wrote the appeals for public support.

Chatterton felt keenly the responsibility of upholding the great traditions of Drury Lane, “whose very name he cherished as it if were a living thing”. Even as he suffered the humiliation of bankruptcy proceedings, he was negotiating for a new lease to run Drury Lane as the National Theatre. Shakespeare had spelt ruin for him, but he was always ready to try again.

Robert Whelan read English at Trinity College, Cambridge and worked for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, before becoming involved with public policy institutes. He has written and edited books on education and other aspects of social policy and The Other National Theatre, his 2013 book on the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was also shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize.