My First Play
Edited by Nick Hern
Nick Hern Books
The esteemed publishing house created by Nick Hern reaches its quarter-century in 2013. As a means of celebrating, the publisher has asked 65 of his authors to join him in remembering an event that could reasonably be represented under the title My First Play.
This book, which has a subtitle "An Anthology of Theatrical Beginnings", contains pieces that vary from no more than a couple of hundred words up to around four pages.
The contributors have taken the brief in different ways. Some relate their first-ever theatrical visit, often at a ridiculously tender age. Others go to the opposite end of the scale, choosing their own first professional plays either as actor, director or playwright. Pretty much everything in between is also represented in this friendly little volume.
As well as enjoying descriptive writing, it is often instructive to learn what turns some writers on—and off (in the latter case Waiting for Godot is the anti-favourite). In many cases, such knowledge will definitely colour the way in which their plays are viewed in future.
The best way to understand the value of the kind of book is to dip into it. That is also the best way to enjoy the pieces, since they are perfect for short journeys or perhaps occupying a few minutes just before going to sleep.
Claire Bayley writes wonderfully about St Petersburg's Maly Theatre Company and their production of Brothers and Sisters. Even though the description stretches to no more than half a dozen paragraphs, it makes this reviewer desperate to see or read a play that sounds heart-breaking, to the extent that even reading about it makes one want to cry.
Ariel Dorfman is as close to a born playwright as it is possible to get. Somehow, he was apparently able to write his first play and see it performed for the benefit of a sizeable audience before he could even write! It sounds pretty good too.
Stella Feehily writes emotively about a series of experiences and having drawn a few lessons for readers, comes up with this classic sentence. "The final lesson is that great plays teach us things about ourselves we half know but don't dare to articulate, and, importantly, they can also reveal to us our own humanity".
One can't help but fall in love with Ella Hickson regardless of her wonderful playwriting, especially after she liberally quotes from a British Theatre Guide review to convey the thrill of seeing a young Manchester University student called Benedict Cumberbatch appearing in Ron Hutchinson's Rat in the Skull in an Edinburgh fringe production.
Irish playwright Elaine Murphy also found some choice words with which to end her piece, stating "if we are lucky, there will be a handful of shows that will amaze us, leaving us an experience we are unable to replicate anywhere else. As theatre-makers all we can do is keep searching, and maybe one day we might recreate that experience for someone else—that is the power of a good play".
Some really big names have taken time out to contribute, including Sir Anthony Sher who pays homage to the power of Athol Fugard in three delightful pages.
Timothy West provides oceans of wisdom and experience, taking us back almost to the War, with his recollections of a life in theatre that stretches back a further generation by reference to his father.
Overall, Nick Hern has put together a worthy volume that not only showcases his writers but also his company's product over the last 25 years. Here's to the next quarter century.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher