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Cold War Theatre.

John Elsom has once again given to anyone interested in the theatre and social history a scholarly and witty account of the significance (or insignificance) of the theatre during the Cold War. He stated his intention quite clearly: 'My aim is to consider the impact of the Cold War upon the cultures of various countries, taking the theatre as my point of departure, and to speculate whether the Cold War itself may not have been affected by the cultural climates in which it was conducted'.

'All the world's a stage ...' Indeed, and the stage commands a good deal of public attention. The stage selects and shapes and interprets events to communicate to its audiences. Politicians, however, often confuse and bewilder and have no intention of presenting the true significance of events to the general public. John Elsom describes many of the political and theatrical developments from 1950 to 1990, and argues his case that there was a two-way relationship between the ideologies and cultures of the time, each influencing the other. This is a history of western theatre in its international context from Brezhnev to Gorbachev, to Brecht, Becket, Thatcherism and the National Theatre. We are taken from McCarthyism and the trial of Arthur Miller to Binkie Beaumont's West End productions for middle class audiences; and the 'Broadway Babies' (chapter 13), not forgetting the contribution of popular musicals and the influence of western youth culture.

This is a stimulating and thought-provoking book about the challenging years of change and uncertainty. The introduction alone demands to be read with care if the subsequent chapters are to be fully appreciated. If you wish to know more about Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, Peter Brook and the RSC, and the differences of opinion within the confines of the National Theatre, read this book. Peter Brook feared the parochialism of national theatres and moved to Paris to establish The International Centre for Theatre Research. Peter Hall continued to fight for his ideas from the National Theatre but was often attacked and accused of expecting too much support from the British tax payer.

Throughout this entire period the stage provided entertainment, escapism, political comment anarchic and pessimistic, reflecting every aspect of public taste. In the Swinging Sixties bold bawdry held sway: 'Sex was a way of deriding the pomposity of British society, its class structure which was now easier to mock because it had come to mean so little'. Almost anything could be said and enacted in these years but there was also a strain of deep depression and anxiety. Harold Pinter's pessimism was deepened as he moved further left. The Establishment was attacked at every level of entertainment.

The author's account of the years of Thatcherism is both wise and witty. Mrs. Thatcher supported Peter Hall and the Arts Council but her support was always pragmatic. 'Thatcherism was compounded of paradoxes...' 'The broad left treated her simply as a class enemy. Ditch the Bitch screams the title of one play from The Theatre Workshop, Stratford.'

No wonder John Elsom is an inspiring lecturer in 'The Department of Arts Policy and Management at the City University (London)' --a tedious title, reflecting the modern fashion. Fortunately, the author is never tedious. He writes with clarity and style. The reader should be prepared to give this intelligent survey the attention it merits. It will prove essential reading for all students of drama for many years to come.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Beerbohm, Nonie
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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