World Theatre in Pictures: From Ancient Times to Modern Broadway, by Tom Prideaux
Three out of five stars
Theatre with the associated noises and effects is likely the oldest form of human entertainment, for events could be acted out before there was enough language to create the tribal story around the campfire. While the earliest of plays do not survive in their precise form, their fundamental themes such as heroism and tragedy live on in the most modern of theatrical productions.
This book contains brief descriptions of the various incarnations of the theatre, from the ancient Greek passion for plays through the age of Shakespeare to the Broadway productions of the early fifties. The fundamental structure in explaining a specific play has a couple of paragraphs explaining the play along with several stills from one or more performances. There is nothing deep in the explanations, consider it the Cliff’s Notes of the history of the theatre.
However, the biggest weakness in the book is the lack of coverage of the world outside western civilization. The title includes the phrase “World Theatre,” but there is little to justify its use. There is an eight-page chapter on “Theatre of the Orient” and a few pages on Haiti and Bali. Many other countries have a rich history of theatre, in the mention of the Chinese play “Lute Song” it is stated that it likely has the longest continuous run in the history of theatre. Peking or Beijing Opera has been performed since the 18th century. Exactly two pages is devoted to the long history of theatre in Africa, where humans originated, and the first plays were no doubt performed.