The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre

Aleks Sierz and Lia Ghilardi
Oberon Books

The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre

Do not be deceived if you pick up this book and flick through it. In the early pages, the volume comes over like a lightweight introduction the theatre for teenagers but it has far more to offer more mature purchasers.

While it might be very effective for that purpose, a great deal of research and erudition has been expended to ensure that readers will learn much about British theatre in the 405 year the period from 1550, when the authors suggest that the modern play was born.

The methodology is unusual to say the least. For each of eight periods, the co-authors have created an avatar to accompany them. This makes the educational aspect of the book much more accessible and digestible, though some might regard it as a little gimmicky.

In any event, the guides from Elizabethan gentlemen Walter to modern gentleman’s gentleman Roberts know their stuff. In between, the periods are generally divided by Royal dynasty, while the guides vary in terms of both class and age.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre, which it is suggested will be followed up by a successor presumably covering the last 60 years, seeks to achieve two separate goals, which may well reflect the contributions of the writers.

Lia Ghilardi is a cultural geographer, which ensures that readers will get a powerful impression of what life was like on the streets of London (and occasionally in the provinces) in each era. The level of detail is impressive and frequently goes beyond setting the theatre of the period into context.

Aleks Sierz is a well-known and prolific author on theatre, though to date he has rarely ventured back beyond the last few decades.

The combination works perfectly. In each era, there is a mixture of social history, theatre background and focus on the genres or playwrights, in addition to actors and theatre managers, who have helped to make drama what it is today.

The initial impression of skimpy overview soon disappears when one discovers not only thoughtful analyses of for example Shakespeare and Marlowe or Wilde and Coward and their greatest plays but also minor works by the long forgotten.

Wherever you find yourself, there is always something of interest. In addition to the main text there are blocked sections that explain theory or provide a brief biography of a key player.

As a bonus, the book is adorned by a series of simple illustrations from James Illman.

This book is the perfect an introduction to British theatre for students or more general theatregoers. However, it goes much further and even those who know a great deal about the subject will be entertained and learn a great deal as they enjoy this page turner.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

Are you sure?