THE WORST IT CAN BE IS A DISASTER: Braham Murray.
Pub: Methuen Drama.
Review: Rod Dungate, 25 September 2007.
(A link to Amazon to the book is below)
A detailed, painful, honest account of a life dedicated to creating theatre.
Braham Murray has been directing theatre plays for well over 40 years. I suspect to many his name may be unknown; he’s not among the starry stars of directing. Yet he’s as important. He started at Cambridge with his revue Hang Down Your Head and Die which went into London. From that moment he embarked on, what at that time, seemed a charmed career. Eventually he forged a close relationship with theatre in Manchester. He is founder director of Manchester Royal Exchange – a theatre whose name will not be unknown to many.
Murray has directed classics, comedies, musicals, revues, new plays. His experience is gigantic, his memories numerous. This book is his committing of them to print.
Directing a play is a difficult and complex task. Murray explains this to us in example after example. A director must be an intellectual force, a multi-faceted arts person, a researcher, manager, team builder and leader. Murray, in recounting his story, is always honest; sometimes this has to be painfully honest.
‘I came upon a biography of Judi Dench,’ he writes. ‘As one does, I looked myself up in the index, turned to the relevant page and saw a, for her, vicious attack on my directorial performance.’ Although he explains how harsh this is, he goes on to explain the circumstances of the production in question – The Good Companions. JD’s comments, though harsh, are rooted in truth. Painful stuff, you see.
But as Murray explains his learning process, so we learn too, through his experience. Aspects of plays are revealed, aspects of approaches to working on plays are outlined. ‘I realised . . . that if I were to earn the right to have a meaningful career as a director, everything from choice of play to casting, design and staging would have to be subjected to a rigorous discipline so that the audience could be properly nourished.’
Not surprisingly Murray’s book often speaks of his relationships. For the most part, I’m not terribly interested in his relationships with family and wives (OK, wives are families, but you get my drift.) But his working relationships are engrossing. He describes, in excruciating detail the absolute venom in his relationship with Frances Barber (Lady M in his Concentration Camp Macbeth.) Here, laid bare, are the real-life difficulties of working in a industry in which the basic materials a people’s emotions.
I didn’t find this an easy book to read – perhaps it’s too detailed. But why should good things be expected to be easy all the time? Besides, Murray writes in short extracts; it’s an ideal book to read in short sections when the detail becomes a joy. And the helpful index makes it an essential for many bookshelves.
Here’s the link to the book