Theatre and book people who thought they knew the obvious front runners for this annual prize given to a book about British Theatre history and practice may have had a surprise this morning when the judges made their decision public at a reception at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Despite hot contenders such as Michael Holroyd’s block-buster A Strange Eventful History, his multiple biography of Henry Iving, Ellen Terry and both their families, the strongly fancied Verbatim, Verbatim about that exciting recent form of theatre and The Golden Generation documenting the British Library’s oral theatre history project it went to a book from academic publisher Palgrave Macmillan: Theatre and Globalisation by Patrick Lonergan, an academic at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
When the judges – theatre director and choreographer Omar Oklai, theatre critic Ian Shuttleworth and Kate Newey, Professor of Theatre at Birmingham University, chaired by Howard Loxton of the Society for Theatre Research — spoke about their deliberations before the winner was named, Newey said of this book:
we were all quite surprised at our nomination of Patrick Lonergan’s Theatre and Globalisation for the short list. Each of us recounted how we picked it up, expecting difficult concepts, expressed in the highly technical language of economics and political theory, and with not much to speak to us as working theatre practitioners or scholars, only to find that each of us was gripped by the book. For me, it spoke to so much of what is current in theatre as an industry; and indeed, reinforces what I say as a theatre historian – that the theatre always has been a globalised international industry. Lonergan discusses the ways in which Irish theatre is a text-book example of an apparently unique national culture, marketed internationally. He introduces sophisticated ideas, with clarity and humour, and identifies the ways in which all of us think about the global and the local at the same time.
The winner was announced by actor/director/dramatist Steve Berkoff, currently starring in his own smash hit production of On the Waterfront at Theatre Royal, Haymarket.
He spoke emphatically about the need for good books to record the history of theatre and of how Nigel Playfair’s book on Edmund Kean – an actor long associated with Drury Lane – had fired his own enthusiasm.
Having announced the winner he went on to praise the book and admitted that when seeing a new book on modern British theatre he turned first to the index to check through the Bs and, doing that with this one was disappointed to find he was not there – and reminded us that he had worked in Ireland and in the 1980s he had directed a season at the Gate Theatre that revived Wilde’s Salome and other plays with which Micheál MacLiammoir and Hilton Edwards had begun their first Dublin season. That Salome went on to tour the world.
Patrick Lonergan, who teaches at the National University of Ireland, Galway, was clearly thrilled to receive the prize. He was already delighted to discover that four people (the judges) outside is immediate family had read the book. This is his very first book as an author (though he had co-edited another academic work and published many academic articles as well as writing for the Irish press – Ed.) so it was amazing to have won a prize for it. After Steven Berkoff’s remarks he had clear indication of what his next book should be about.
The award ceremony was attended by many personalities from the worlds of theatre and publishing and was held in the Grand Saloon at Drury Lane by courtesy of Really Useful Theatres.
The short-list wasThe Golden Generation: New Light on Post-war British Theatre Edited by Dominic Shellard (British Library)
Stage Presence: The Actor as Mesmerist by Jane Goodall (Routledge)
A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their Remarkable Families by Michael Holroyd (Chatto and Windus)
Theatre and Globalisation : Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era by Patrick Lonergan (Palgrave Macmillan)
Theatre of the Troubles by Bill McDonnell (Exeter University Press)
Verbatim: Techniques in Contemporary Theatre Edited by Will Hammond and Dan Steward (Oberon)
For information on winner Patrick Lonergan (National University of Ireland, Galway) see www.nuigalway.ie/english/PatrickLonerganDEC.htm
For the judges speeches see www.str.org.uk/events/bookprize/index.html