Sheila Hancock Announced Winner for Theatre Book Prize

Thesps, academics, publishers and writers rubbed shoulders in the Grand Saloon at Drury Lane this morning as they gathered to discover the winner of this year’s Theatre Book Prize, awarded annually by the Society for Theatre Research.

Books ranged from the biography of magician David Dixon to academic writing about walking as performance with some heavy contenders among a short list that included a biography of the clown Grimaldi, a book of essays covering every aspect of Early Modern English theatre, a critique of and guide to the writing of theatre history, a history of ENO and a biography of dancer and choreographer Kenneth MacMillan.

Not even the judges knew the winner, for at their last meeting there was no clear victor. A final individual ballot completed only yesterday determined the result which actress Sheila Hancock (no mean writer herself) eventually revealed as giving the laurels to Different Drummer: the Life of Kenneth MacMillan by Jann Parry (published by Faber).

Earlier the judges all got the chance to talk about the short list and others of their favourites, and theatre critic Mark Shenton said of this title:

‘I don’t think I read a more fascinating or more exhaustively researched volume all year than Jann Parry’s Different Drummer, a biography of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan (published by Faber). It is based on countless interviews she conducted as well as access she was given to MacMillan’s personal papers, including his draft memoir and diaries, by MacMillan’s widow Deborah – which she had not herself read. Biography can be an act of remarkable trust, and Deborah MacMillan’s was rewarded with this candid, uncompromising, but loving portrait of a candid, uncompromising and complicated man. He was an intensely private man, and Parry points out that his family found out more about him from his ballets than from conversations at home.  Now, however, we can all have a posthumous conversation with a great man and see the work in the context of who created it. It is a remarkable achievement.’

Jan Parry was dance critic of the Observer from 1983 to 2004 and has written for many other puiblications.

The judges were Professor Jane Moody of York University, Mark Shenton critic for the Daily Express and blogger for The Stage, and actor Matthew Kelly chaired by Howard Loxton for the Society for Theatre Research.

The prize is given annually for the best book, published in english during the past year, on the history and technique of British or British-related theatre in all its aspects

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