STAGE DIRECTIONS – Michael Frayn writing on theatre 1970 – 2008.
faber and faber, hardback: RRP 20 gbp.
ISBN: 9 780571 240555.
Review: Rod Dungate, 26 October 2008.
Stuffed full of valuable insights.
A link to the book on Amazon is below.
In this collection of essays, Michael Frayn, one of the UK’s most established and respected writers, sets down a wide range of thoughts about, in particular, his plays, and in general, writing, audiences, the UK and the world at large.
Not surprisingly in a set of essays which span such a period of time you sense the changes in the man behind the words, too. Or is it, rather than the man who changes, his choice of topic that shifts? Or does one cause the other to change? Whatever the answers to these questions, the most important things to emerge are the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the writer. He combines this with a self-effacing modesty.
The early sections examine the development into production of his early plays. Here Frayn is at his most humorous. But the humour never hides the straightforward hard work of writing moving into production – particularly the frustrations of redrafting and reshaping. The difficulties of trying the get the mechanics of a drama right. And of producers whose views are ever in a state of flux. Underpinning all, though, is the centre-stage position Frayne gives to the audience – ‘to be a member of a good audience is exhilarating.’
In later pieces, though, Frayn gives much more of an insight to the ideas and complexities behind the plays. So, for instance, when he writes about DEMOCRACY, Frayn brilliantly gives an account of the development of modern Germany. But here, also, is a fascinating discussion about truth and fiction. What do we expect when we see a play about real events and people? How far can the fiction go before all truth is lost? Important – no, fundamental – questions for playwrights.
I could read and re-read (have done so!) Frayn’s accounts on his work on Chekhov. However well many people have written about Chekhov, Frayn’s writing is special. Here’s an accomplished playwright, himself a Russian speaker, writing about one of the mosts important and allusive playwrights who ever lived. And Frayn sheds intriguing light on the work of Chekhov scholar David Magarshack.
This is a fascinating and many faceted collection of essays – their reach goes beyond the confines of theatre. Frayn’s comments on society, writing and politics are more than justification for bringing these writings together.
Here’s the link: