A journal of turn-of-the-century theatre

Issue 2 - Summer 2011

Essays Current Research Book ReviewsContributorsAnnouncements


Gale, Maggie B. and John F. Deeney, eds., with Dan Rebellato. Routledge Drama Anthology and Sourcebook. New York: Routledge, 2010. Pp. 856. ISBN 978-0-415-46606-6

Arline Cravens, Saint Louis University

This ambitious anthology brings together a variety of texts pivotal to the practice and development of modernist theatre from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century in Europe and America. The compilation of primary sources translated into English includes plays, performance texts, critical essays, and theoretical manifestos.

      The volume is comprised of five sections which are divided in terms of an artistic movement or ideological agenda rather than chronologically. The divisions, therefore, intersect with each other and represent the fluidity of artistic movements and cultures. Each section is preceded by comprehensive introductory material that provides an overview and contextualizes the works in the section. A detailed timeline notes the social, cultural, and political developments in relation to innovations in theatre, while an introductory essay by one or more of the editors clearly defines the movement and provides a thorough summary of the representative works in the section. Introductions for Parts 2-5 eloquently reference preceding sections and adeptly situate the new material within the context of the entire volume. Completing the introduction is an extensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading.

     Part 1 presents the Naturalist and Symbolist movements with works such as Émile Zola’s play Thérèse Raquin and his essay “Naturalism in the Theatre.”  Maurice Materlinck’s play Interior, translated by Dan Rebellato, is included, as well as his essay “Tragedy in Everyday Life.”  Works by Anton Chekhov, Henrik Ibsen and others complete Part 1.

      The exploration of the diverse Historical Avant-Garde in Part 2 is effectively portrayed through works such as Alfred Jarry’s King Ubu,  Guillaume Apollinaire’s surrealist drama The Breasts of Tiresias, futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Feet, and Federico García Lorca’s The Public.  André Breton’s First and Second Surrealist Manifesto, Antonin Artaud’s essay “Theatre and the Plague,” and Enrico Pampolini’s “Furturist Scenography” are several of the texts that furnish theoretical commentary in this section. 

     Part 3 discusses Early Political Theatres through the political realism and the theme of gender inequality of Cicely Hamilton and Chrisopher St. John’s How the Vote Was Won, and the anti-war play E=mc2 by Hallie Flanagan Davi, among others.  Texts by Susan Carlson, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, and Sheila Stowell clarify the central issues of this experimental period. 

     The relationship between Ideology and Performance comprising Part 4 is portrayed using political dramatist John McGrath’s The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black Black Oil and Maria Irene Fornés’ transformational drama Enter the Night, as well as through works by James Baldwin, Caryl Churchill and Mark Ravenhill.  Critical works, such as McGrath’s “The Theory and Practice of Political Theatre” and “Me, My iBook, and Writing in America” by Mark Ravenhill, provide significant insight into theatre practice at that time.

     Part 5 introduces the diversity of Contemporary Performance through dramatic works such as The Story of M by SuAndi and Supernintendo Ranchero by Guillermo Gómez-Peña.  “Myth Today” by Roland Barthes, “The Precession of Simulacra” by Jean Baudrillard, and an interview with Laurie Anderson, edited by Nicholas Zarbrugg, all provide indispensable theoretical commentary on the performances.

      As Maggie Gale notes in her introduction to the volume, "Theatre and Performance Studies have undergone a significant transformation over the past two decades, but the materials with which students still need to engage in order to understand the relationships between theatre and performance practices of the past and those of the present remain relatively constant as reference points."  (xxi)  This volume represents a collection of comprehensive source materials and primary texts in English seminal to the understanding of modernist theatre, and will serve as a valuable resource for students, teachers, and researchers of theatre.

The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry, Volume I. Katharine Cockin, ed. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2010. 241pp.

Tara Aveilhe, The University of Tulsa

Victorian stage actress Ellen Terry continues to intrigue fin de siècle scholars for a number of reasons: she forged a successful theatrical career in England and America; she maintained friendships and lengthy correspondences with many of the leading artists and literary figures of her day; and she simultaneously upheld and challenged traditional Victorian gender roles. Her public and private lives were equally fascinating, and her lively correspondences with friends, admirers, and family members provide a glimpse into her experiences as an actress and celebrity, as well as offer a window into her personal struggles with poor health, single motherhood, and multiple marriages. The first of eight volumes of The Collected Letters of Ellen Terry covers the period of Terry’s life between 1865 and 1888, beginning with her separation from husband G.F. Watts at the age of eighteen and concluding shortly after her return from a third American tour with the Lyceum theater company in 1887.

The importance of Terry’s letters was established by Virginia Woolf, who declared Terry’s letters to be “some of the best letters in the language (xiv).” Several collections of Terry’s letters have been published over the years, including collections of her written exchanges with playwright George Bernard Shaw and letters between Terry and her long-time friend and advisor Stephen Coleridge. But none has been as comprehensive or ambitious as this latest volume edited by Katharine Cockin. Cockin has attempted to gather all of Terry’s letters that “may be of interest to readers (xvi).” Despite obvious gaps (most letters between her and “male intimates” were destroyed or censored by her family), the opening volume offers readers a chance to explore Terry’s playful interchanges with her many and varied correspondents.

The first volume includes Terry’s letters to noted figures, such as Lewis Carroll, Bram Stoker, and Charles Reade, unedited versions of Terry’s  letters to Stephen Coleridge, and  correspondences with her son Edward Gordon Craig, daughter Edith Craig, and family friend and caretaker Elizabeth Rumball (“Boo”), to name a few. Terry’s correspondences take readers through her monetary and legal struggles following her separation from actor Charles Wardell, her difficulty managing and overseeing her children’s education, her anxiety and self-doubt when faced with new stage roles, and her exhausting schedule of rehearsals, travel, and performances.

It is unfortunate that letters pertaining to Terry’s romances and marriages are missing from the collection. As a result, many of Terry’s references remain veiled in mystery, leaving the reader to guess at the situations surrounding her hardships with the opposite sex. Cockin’s annotations throughout the edition provide basic information about names, places, and events mentioned in the letters, but it would have been useful to the reader if she had offered more detailed annotations, particularly regarding Terry’s intimate relationships. Drawing from Terry’s autobiography or other correspondences and archival sources might have aided Cockin in providing some perspective about pivotal events like elopements, divorces, and separations and thus given readers more insight into Terry’s letters.

Despite the quibble over annotations, it is an incredible feat for Cockin to have collected and organized Terry’s letters so lovingly and comprehensively.  This edition, which includes a thorough chronology of Terry’s life as well as a detailed timeline of Terry’s major theatrical roles, will certainly be of great interest to fin de siècle scholars, theater historians, New Woman scholars, and gender scholars alike. Terry’s persona is now no longer limited to the letters published in single editions by her famous correspondents. With Cockin’s edition, we are able to see her as the multi-faceted and complex woman that she was – “Livie,” “Nell,” and “Nin-com-poop” to her friends, “your old loving mother” to her children, Ellen Terry to her managers and professional contacts, and Ophelia, Margaret, and Lady Macbeth to her many fans.