Why write yet another book about Theatre?
This book was written for Nic and Darren, and for Ricky and Paula, and many other combinations of young people who did their "work experience" at my theatre. They were all teenagers studying "Theatre Arts", "Performance Arts" or "Drama" for GCSE or "A" Levels. They were all enthusiastic and in love with Theatre but, thanks to the pressures of the National Curriculum, they were all blinkered. There is a generation out there which believes 20th Century Theatre consists of Stanislavski and Brecht - full stop. There isn’t time in the curriculum to go much further. Shaw and Coward are met with blank looks. If an actor hasn’t appeared in a film or in a television series, then he or she doesn’t exist. These students vaguely know some other names, of course, and they know that fuller information could be found in various books and encyclopaedias. But, they claim, these books are too thick, too detailed, too heavy and limiting for the student who has to cover a lot of ground in a hurry. From this came my desire to do something about this, and to show that the history of British Theatre is fascinating 1 full of glorious characters, marvellous quarrels, great achievements, juicy gossip, heartaches, triumphs, bitchiness, generosity, and above all, fun! If it was the Nics and Darrens who provided the inspiration, it was those very same "thick, heavy and uninviting" books which provided me with the material. I owe an enormous debt to the compilers of the theatre encyclopaedias, to the scholarly theatre historians, to colourful enthusiasts like W.Macqueen Pope and V.C. Clinton—Baddeley, to collectors like Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, and to the countless actors who have left us their memoirs and autobiographies. To do the decent thing, I should list them all~ but that would occupy more space than this existing book. The illustrations are an important part of my attempt to make this book interesting and fun.
Grateful thanks are due to all the copyright holders and owners of the original material for their permission to reproduce them and share the enjoyment. If I have inadvertently breached someone’s rights in the illustrations, I apologise humbly and will certainly put this to right as soon as I am informed. But let me emphasise — this is NOT a "proper" history of theatre, nor is it an intellectual or scholarly work. It is a light—hearted introduction to the wonderful world of theatre, and its real aim is to enthuse the students so that they will seek out the "thick and heavy" books and find them very inviting indeed.
A final note of thanks to Antonio Peluso, Alex Hanrahan, Ian Parsons and my brother, Nigel, for their direct involvement in creating this book, and to the many actors, musicians, designers, technicians, audiences and students who have enthused and inspired me throughout my career. Maybe Nic, Darren, Ricky and Paula will become famous actors. Maybe not. But fame has never been an essential requirement for enjoying a life in the Theatre. Enthusiasm and fun are surely more important.
Vivyan Ellacott 2010