Theatre in Wales

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Winter Book Review- Handbook Filled with Sharp Observation

Theatre Director Book

John Caird , Faber and Faber [publisher] , November 26, 2011
Theatre Director Book by John Caird Many a director has written many a book. They come in three types. There is the evening-of-career valediction. Manifesto-style, it states what is good in theatre and what is killing it. These books come in at a crisp one hundred and fifty pages. The typeface is large. Footnotes are absent. It is written from the heart.

A second genre is the book that has arisen from a sabbatical break in the busy life of a director. It is written from the head. The prose makes tribute to the continental tradition- “specularisation”, for instance, “involves the commodification of experience.” Index and footnotes make reference to Baudrillard and Levinas.

The third genre, and the one to excite publishers, is the how-to manual. The late Don Taylor’s “Directing Plays” went through many editions. Katie Mitchell’s “The Director’s Craft” (2009) comes with a recommendation from Nicholas Hytner. Its two hundred and forty pages follow the chronology of a production, the whole lot from first private reading to how to read the reviews. It is an excellent work- Elen Bowman is among the many to whom the author gives thanks- that uses “the Seagull” as a practical example.

John Caird is a Fellow of the Royal Welsh College and a director for Welsh National Opera. The Caird Studio has seen many a well-known acting name give a first student performance. His “Theatre Craft” is eight hundred pages long, two and three-quarters inches thick, and comes with an on-cover endorsement from Dame Judi. “Written with such humour and common sense I may have to carry it around with me all the time.”

Its form is alphabetical, from “abstraction” to “work-through.” It is low on theoretical anxiety, high on sharp observation from the inside. The reader meets an array of theatre personalities. There is the director who becomes “the clingy parent, who cannot bear to see the actors happy and independent.” Reviving a play can mean taking on “an ignorant band of lawyers and self-aggrandising executors from a writer’s estate.” No part of theatre is left out. After a sketch of the good stage doorman Caird describes the bad, the one who “sits in a surly nicotine silence gawping at a tiny television, occasionally grunting...rudely refusing access to anyone who isn’t on one of his lists.”

The book is addressed throughout to the young director. The advice runs from audition and casting to the show up and running. His perspective towards the audience is intriguing. “One of your most important functions as a director is that you represent the audience's interest in a play...thus, when your first audience walks into the theatre, they replace you.” If they react “in a way that you cannot approve or understand, you mustn't blame them.” The reader may wonder how many directors are quite so philosophical as to be able to say to themselves “you have simply imagined them incorrectly.”

The most important entries have the scale of a full-blown essay. The six entries on different aspects of rehearsal span fifty pages. Fifteen pages are given to actors, an entry that ends on a note of warning, with a touch of melancholy to it. “Though you may have many actor friends, some of them intimate friends, you will always remain on the outskirts of their fraternity.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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