In case you’ve not spotted this feature before at SiaB, it’s one where I look back through my 5+ years of blogging, and pick out five reviews of good books which have an interesting or unusual connection…
Reading At Freddie’s made me wonder why I hadn’t previously thought of today’s FFTA topic, since it is one which I actively seek in the books I read… and then I was surprised by how few I could find in my past reviews. But enough to compile a list for you! (I would have included Wise Children by Angela Carter, but it already appeared under books about twins.) As always, feel free to use the idea and logo, and do add your own suggestions in the comments – in fact, this is a category for which I’d really value suggestions, especially novels, so put your thinking caps on! (oh, and the cartoon took AGES, so… you’d make my day if you said something nice about it!)
Five… Books About The Theatre
In short: A largely forgotten name now, Dame Irene was once a much-loved stage actress – she was Gwendoline in the first The Importance of Being Earnest; co-founded R.A.D.A., and appeared in the first British colour film. She also appeared in many of A.A. Milne’s plays, which is what attracted me to her autobiography.
From my review: “Although Vanbrugh rarely delves into her private life too deeply, she does talk about becoming a widow. Much of To Tell My Story moves away from tales of specific performances to more general, and very fascinating, ruminations upon all manner of aspects of acting – from etiquette, to creating a part, to being in a revival.”
In short: One of Britain’s – nay, the world’s – favourite actresses gives anecdotes from her many years of success on stage and screen. (It makes for a fascinating contrast and comparison with Irene Vanbrugh’s autobiography.)
From my review: “As a rule, a biography focuses on the career and an autobiography on the childhood – or so I have found – so it’s nice to have an autobiography which looks mostly at the area which interests me most. Because it is Dench’s decades of theatrical experience which captivate me – each play seems to come with its own amusing or intriguing incidents, and I love the atmosphere conveyed of being part of the company.”
In short: Friends reuniting and reminiscing 45 years after their youth spent in a ‘club’ kicks off a novel about a girl’s life in the 1920s theatrical world, with some intrigue and romance thrown in. First half brilliant, second half tedious… the brilliant first half earns the novel its place in FFTA.
From my review: “It was a brave, and a delicious, decision on Dodie Smith’s part to make Mouse no prodigy – she is an appalling actress, and no amount of advice from Crossway can make her anything else. So, instead, she starts working in one of the theatre offices with Eve Lester, a kind, sensible, and wise woman in an environment of those who are often kind, but rarely the rest.”
In short: Best known to most of us as a blogger, Harriet’s father was the director George Devine. This book combines autobiography with biography of him, and offers the fascinating perspective of a child who met everyone in the theatre.
From my review: “It must be tempting, writing about oneself and one’s family, to have all sorts of references to jokes the reader won’t understand, or people who are relevant for one story but never again. Harriet doesn’t do this – there is nothing here that would be edited out if the book were fiction; it all comes together to form a structured narrative whole. Throughout it all, Harriet’s tone is beautifully honest and thoughtful, without being unduly introspective or (conversely) coolly detached. It is the perfect tone for autobiography.”
In short: Not about theatre per se, but I had to include a play somewhere. An eloping couple found their car breaks down outside a very curious hotel… and meet a very interfering (and hilarious) proprietor.
From my review: “Yes, the scenario is a little contrived, but who cares about that – The Dover Road is a very funny play about the benign meddling of Latimer and the various mismatched pairings under his roof.”