Played in Britain - Modern Theatre in 100 Plays
Kate Dorney and Frances Grey
Methuen Drama in Association with V&A Publishing
This delightful book manages to fulfil two purposes in a single volume. To some, it will be regarded as a glorious coffee table book packed with photographs covering 65 years of theatre since World War II and drawn from the V&A's collection.
Other readers will find that it gives them excellent synopses and more regarding 100 of the most notable plays to have premièred in Britain since 1945. In this second fashion, it has much in common with the equally readable Great Moments in the Theatre by Benedict Nightingale.
For each play, starting with J B Priestley's An Inspector Calls and running right through to Posh by Laura Wade, the same formula is followed.
In text terms, there is a "snapshot" summarising the plot followed by a section talking readers through the play's "impact" and finally commentary on its afterlife which can include later productions, awards and, in some cases, film versions. In each case, there is also a selection of photographs, together with basic data such as details of writer, director and designer, debut dates and usually three selected other works by the playwright plus two others that might share common themes or settings.
This compendium will set people talking and possibly arguing thanks to its inclusions, which tend towards the controversial as a matter of policy, but also those tricky omissions that must have given the co-authors sleepless nights.
Their writing is extremely good and the ability to encapsulate the essence of a play in a single page of text a real talent. Whether the plays are very familiar to readers or completely unknown, they come across extremely well and other writers, particularly those with an academic background, would do well to read Played in Britain because they could learn a great deal about conciseness and linguistic simplicity.
Just to whet the appetite with a few choices from different decades, A Streetcar Named Desire nestles not too far from The Mousetrap, A Taste of Honey is next to Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, deliciously The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil precedes The Rocky Horror Show and that only takes us to the end of the 1970s.
The good things just keep rolling in with Road and Serious Money, Beautiful Thing and Angels in America and coming right up to date The History Boys, War Horse and England People Very Nice.
Anyone that is interested in theatre is going to find this book fascinating, whether they are lucky enough to be the recipient of a gift or need to shell out £25 which, in view of the high production values, seems a very reasonable investment in these inflationary times.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher