1st June 2001 at 01:00
THEATRE DiRECTIONS. By Jonothan Neelands and Warwick Dobson. Hodder amp; Stoughton. pound;9.99. Available from TES Direct, pound;7.99 or 10 Pound 70

Writing and thinking about drama has always involved coming to terms with conventions and authorities, and the most valuable insights have often arisen from quarrels with dead predecessors. This book brings together some 50 extracts, linked by the editors' running commentary. It should help sixth-formers and university students develop their own point of view by fruitful and sustained disagreement.

The book begins by examining the nature of drama itself, relating it to other narrative forms and to different kinds of ritual and public action. Here and elsewhere the thread leads back to Athens, both to the practice of the writers and, inescapably, to the writings of Aristotle. The ideas of symbolist visionaries such as E Gordon Craig and of would-be political revolutionaries such as Brecht can be raced back to Greek discussions about mimesis - the way reality is represented - and to metaphors involving mirrors and dynamos, reflecting or transforming the life we know.

The stream of voices broadens with contributions from actors, directors and producers. Those such as Shakespeare and David Mamet, who have written for the stage and appeared on it, are full of matter for reflection. To meet them within a historical setting is to see the complex relations between continuity and innovation in drama with greater clarity.

A minor annoyance is the lack of an index. For example, one of the more extended extracts cites Elia Kazan's notebook on directing A Streetcar Named Desire. His comparison of Blanche to other tragic heroines such as Medea stimulates a frustrated desire to pursue parallel themes elsewhere. But the book contains many fine examples of what Hamlet called the "necessary question of the play".

Tom Deveson

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