Play Writing – A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion

Fraser Grace and Clare Bayley
Bloomsbury Books

Play Writing

There are innumerable books on acting but far fewer handbooks helping budding writers to become top playwrights.

This volume, co-written by Fraser Grace and Clare Bayley, both successful wordsmiths in their own right, attempts to fill the gap.

The pair attempt to run through the whys and wherefores of their topic methodically. The opening section is entitled Reflections and starts with musings on the art form before launching into a history of playwriting from the ancients to the contemporaries.

Other reflections on various themes help to provide good background prior to a series of essays from 20 playwrights, almost all of them well-known. These include such luminaries from both sides of the Atlantic as Howard Brenton, David Greig, Frank McGuinness, Lynn Nottage and Sir Tom Stoppard.

Although their brief was apparently to provide inspiring advice, in some cases such as that of Dennis Kelly, they merely take the opportunity of an audience to set out strong views. If Kelly were to have his way, writing courses would be banned. This is somewhat ironic given the nature of the book to which he has contributed.

The third and final part gives detailed advice on the nature of writing plays, operating within the theatrical industry and going through the process of rehearsal to production and the terrors of opening night with ensuing reviews.

Everything is delivered in practical fashion, with the experience of the authors drawn upon in full to ensure that readers will get a feel for what it takes to be a playwright and the way in which they might develop their own careers.

One wonders why this book needed two authors, since they alternate sections with no particular logic. However, it is possible that the combined knowledge that they offer is greater than either could have done alone.

What they singularly failed to achieve was the avoidance of an unfortunate record. This is without question the worst proof-read book that this reviewer has ever seen, with typographical errors littered throughout.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and such mistakes can bring a smile to the eye such as reference to David Greig’s play about an airman from the United States, which took on biblical proportions when re-christened “The American Pilate”.

Those who can overlook such minor quibbles are likely to learn a great deal from the experience of the authors and those who have contributed the short essays.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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