AT THE SHARP END: Peter Billingham.
Pub. Methuen Drama
Review: Ian Spiby, 25 November 2007.
(A link to Amazon to the book is below)
A user-friendly guide to cutting edge British drama: ‘Is our contemporary theatre at the sharp end?’. This book provides and answer.
In this useful and accessible book Peter Billingham demonstrates that British theatre, beginning circa 1956, is still very much alive. Taking the work of five dramatists: David Edgar, David Greig, Mark Ravenhill, Tanika Gupta and Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment, he examines their major plays, to show how they reflect contemporary political concerns.
For each playwright he provides a number of perspectives. Firstly, a “Short Cut” gives essential information in the form of bullet points followed by a list of their major plays. Then comes an analytical and reflective essay written as recently as May 2007 preceded by an interview with the playwright conducted by Billingham in 2006. Each chapter ends with a section called “Downloads”, again in bullet points where the reader is directed to other playwrights writing about similar concerns.
I found this format immensely helpful. I imagine that, like me, most readers will not have encountered all the dramatic work featured in the book but by the end of each chapter you have a fairly thorough grounding.
Personally I found it more useful to read the essay before the interview where we are introduced to the playwright’s works and provided with a critical commentary. As an academic, the author is able to give us a balanced and non-biased view while contextualising the work in terms of the political underpinning of the plays concerned. Moreover, he writes in an engagingly readable style even when dealing with the complexities of politics and postmodernism.
In the interviews, which read more like intelligent, informed conversations he poses his subjects with difficult, often penetrating questions and receives uniformly considered and interesting answers.
Throughout the book, Billingham is asking himself the important question that dramatists and playgoers need to ask all the time: “Is our contemporary theatre is at the sharp end or sedated and irrelevant” With the work of the five subjects of this book we are left in no doubt that they are at the sharp end.
Here’s the Amazon Link