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A Pocket Guide to Ibsen, Chekhov

 and Strindberg


Written in conjunction with Stephen Unwin



The British Theatre Guide, 4th April 2005, Peter Latham


This review has to start with a brief apology to Fabers. I have been regularly dipping into this book as plays by the trio appear and never quite got round to writing the review.


The formula is now familiar as English Touring Theatre artistic director Stephen Unwin has developed quite a nice sideline in Pocket Guides. His collaborator this time around is the very distinguished actor Michael Pennington, who has previously written about his experiences playing Chekhov.


This triple book is presumably justified on the basis that it might be difficult to fill a saleable work about any one of the individuals. However, while it covers thirteen Ibsen’s and most of the less prolific Chekhov, there are a mere five plays by Strindberg.


The omissions can be frustrating when one is trying to find out about or relive a theatrical experience. Ibsen’s ‘Brand’, so memorably brought to the stage by Ralph Fiennes is missing, as, rather more justifiably is ‘Easter’, a rather obscure Strindberg just resuscitated by Dominic Dromgoole for the Oxford Stage Company.


It almost goes without saying that what is included is excellent. Following an introduction, each of the writers gets a brief biography. The general writing also includes a chapter entitled ‘The Legacy’ that sets the trip in context, demonstrating that, in particular, Bernard Shaw was heavily influenced by Ibsen and Chekhov and that Strindberg has had a significant impact on, amongst others, the surprising combination of Eugene O’Neill, John Osborne, Samuel Beckett and Patrick Marber. This is complemented by a chronicle of plays written in the period 1865-1914 that makes fascinating and enlightening reading.


The core of the book, though, is a summary and analysis of the plays. This covers characters, the story, a section ‘About the Play’ providing critical analysis and context, and a section on the play ‘In Performance’.


These books are all well-written and serve their purpose perfectly. This one will prove immensely useful to students, actors and directors, theatre-goers and dare one suggest it, critics.



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