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Stage Blood: Five tempestuous years in the early life of the National Theatre [Kindle Edition]

Michael Blakemore
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In 1971, Michael Blakemore joined the National Theatre as Associate Director under Laurence Olivier. The National, still based at the Old Vic, was at a moment of transition awaiting the move to its vast new home on the South Bank. Relying on generous subsidy, it would need an extensive network of supporters in high places. Olivier, a scrupulous and brilliant autocrat from a previous generation, was not the man to deal with these political ramifications. His tenure began to unravel and, behind his back, Peter Hall was appointed to replace him in 1973. As in other aspects of British life, the ethos of public service, which Olivier espoused, was in retreat.

Having staged eight productions for the National, Blakemore found himself increasingly uncomfortable under Hall's regime. Stage Blood is the candid and at times painfully funny story of the events that led to his dramatic exit in 1976. He recalls the theatrical triumphs and flops, his volatile relationship with Olivier including directing him in Long Day's Journey into Night, the extravagant dinners in Hall's Barbican flat with Harold Pinter, Jonathan Miller and the other associates, the opening of the new building, and Blakemore's brave and misrepresented decision to speak out. He would not return to the National for fifteen years.

Product Description


Warm, wise, and even sternly moralistic ... Theatre is evanescent, yet it can provide us with experiences so intense that we gratefully retain them for the rest of our lives. Memory compulsively preserves ancient grudges; more importantly, as Blakemore demonstrates, it is the impregnable archive of our affections. (Peter Conrad, The Observer)

[Blakemore] is a needle-sharp observer of the life of the theatre, both on and off stage, and his account of Olivier, as actor, company leader and potentate, during the extraordinary sunset of his career at the National, is masterly and moving ... Blakemore's portrait of Hall, a man to whose kindness and wisdom many of us can testify, as a giant python, swallowing and slowly digesting organisations, projects, people, is unforgettable; a character out of Balzac or Dickens ... A most unusual book indeed; one whose scope goes far beyond the theatre, though it is a landmark in writing about the life of the stage. (Simon Callow, Guardian)

Masterly ... Michael Blakemore is a writer of exceptional gifts. Heretical though it may be, I cannot help wishing that he would shut the stage-door behind him for a while and concentrate instead on the next book. (Selina Hastings, The Spectator)

Anyone who enjoys theatre, politics and good storytelling will love Stage Blood ... his sharply observed account of life with Olivier (and those who sought to overthrow him) is an unputdownable joy. (Gyles Brandreth, Mail on Sunday Books of the Year)

Stage Blood is the best theater book I've read since, well, Blakemore's equally enthralling 2004 memoir, Arguments with England. Both deserve a place of prominence on your shelf. (Michael Riedel, New York Post)

A vivid, personal account of a fascinating period in British theatre. (Financial Times)

With its pulpy title and lurid, crime thriller-style jacket, it promises salacious details and largely delivers ... tremendous fun. (Metro)

Book Description

Stage Blood: Five tempestuous years in the early life of the National Theatre, by Michael Blakemore, is the enthralling, tumultuous behind-the-scenes story of Blakemore's time at the National Theatre, published for the theatre's fiftieth anniversary.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 629 KB
  • Print Length: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber Plays (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00E78HFAO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #91,903 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is This A Dagger . . ? 27 Dec. 2013
By John
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is rare that I read a book from cover to cover at virtually one sitting. `Stage Blood' is an exception. Splendidly and concisely written, it tells mostly of Blakemore's experiences at the new National Theatre, the behind-the-scenes dramas that unfolded as the dramas on stage were being created.

He tellingly reveals the fragility of a life in the theatre where a period of success is all but certain to be followed by failure, as was to happen to him after his own string of successes including "Long Day's Journey into Night". Equally revealing are his insights into the entire production process - from the decision to select a particular play through the appointment of actors and designers, the amount of detail a director prepares in advance vis-a-vis the give and take with the actors in the rehearsal studio, the often nerve-wracking crises that arise - as with Tom Stoppard's "Jumpers" and Ken Tynan's part in re-shaping a good deal of the work between first preview and opening night, thereby turning a near-disaster into a triumph.

The book has an honesty which makes it an utterly believable account. In its pages, the author fleshes out characters we have all heard about - the young, near-alcoholic Antony Hopkins, Diana Rigg, the wonderful Denis Quilley, Kenneth Tynan, Harold Pinter and many more. Laurence Olivier comes in for unstinting praise as the finest actor of his generation and the only one who could have pulled together the National Theatre project. Yet his insecurities, unpredictability and manipulating side are fully illustrated, as is the dignity which he exhibited in the face of the shameful manner of his replacement by Peter Hall.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saying what you mean.... 10 Oct. 2013
'Stage Blood' is a page-turner. But I think Michael Blakemore should come out and say what he REALLY thinks about Peter Hall.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for every aspiring actor or director 13 Oct. 2013
This is a bitingly honest account of some of the great productions in the early days of the National Theatre, at times you are almost back in the rehearsal room of fifty years ago. The giants - Olivier, Tynan, Dexter are vividly brought to life - together with the back stabbing and betrayal of lesser men.
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5.0 out of 5 stars re-title Bad Blood 14 May 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is best read in conjunction with the diaries of Peter Hall and Peter Nichols. Blakemore is still sick as a parrot that he was
not made head of the National Theatre-but agrees he has no interest in admin and only likes his own projects with his favourite
plays and writers. He comes over as an Australian Neil from the Young Ones-still bitter over whose idea it was to do the full
un-cut Hamlet and presenting his 20-page document listing the NT's failings and his personal grievances 2 days after the
State opening. I think Kenneth Tynan was a trouble-maker who persuaded an ailing Olivier to co-opt the most unlikely pair-
Blakemore and Jonathan Miller and sat back to watch the fur fly. Though he still seems to hate Hall it is the Blakemore
productions which are available to buy through Amazon-none of the televised Peter Hall era successes-No Man's Land,Bedroom
Farce,The Double Dealer and On The Razzle are available to buy -so Michael Blakemore has the last laugh.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect title for a perfect book 3 Dec. 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A marvellously theatrical picture of life in the early days of the National, with Peter Hall as the smiling villain, Laurence Olivier as the adorable but devious hero, and Michael Blakemore as the constant observer. Beautifully written, constantly illuminating, it is at once one of the great books about the stage, often very funny, with the birth of the National's Long Day's Journey into Night as its superbly sustained centrepiece. Olivier is vividly, and very movingly, depicted. So too - though I cannot say movingly - is the rascal of the story, John Dexter, who had the habit, expertly conveyed, of speaking of himself in the third person. I thought he was a terrible opera director (not a subject Blakemore touches on) but clearly in his element in spoken drama. A book that revives the long defunct Kenneth Tynan tradition, this is a page-turner of the choicest sort - and Tynan himself, I am happy to say, comes out of it well. Conrad Wilson
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5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent piece of theatre history 28 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As other reviewers have said, this book is unputdownable. I read the last third in one sitting because I just had to know how the story ends. The account of the last days of the Olivier regime and the changes wrought by Peter Hall is all the more powerful for being written with the calmness that comes from forty years of thinking about them. Blakemore is a big name himself in theatre, and he is writing about some of the biggest of them all - from Olivier downwards. Given the importance of these formative years at the NT, which to a large extent set a pattern for subsidised companies ever since, this is a major work of theatre history. The fact that it is beautifully written is a huge added bonus.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Story of a Tyrant 19 Dec. 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this book almost impossible to put down. Anyone as involved in theatregoing as I was back in the 60/70s will feel the same.
It's the story of the creation of the National Theatre. Laurence Olivier set the whole theatre enterprise in motion when he was the director in its first home at the Old Vic. It is about several highly talented men, Olivier himself, hugely talented, leading an ensemble of great players. He is followed by one of the most extraordinary men of the 20th century, Peter Hall. A man prodigiously talented with a huge appetite for food and the opposite sex. Could anyone else have got this off the ground but these two remarkable men
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind the curtain
An excellent read, beautifully written and a fascinating insight behind the scenes of theatre land, the egos, the creativity, the money, the politics.
Thorough recommended.
Published 2 days ago by P. TURNER
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An excellent and revealing read - especially recommended for anyone one in the theatre world!
Published 19 days ago by Peter Ellis Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
excellent book and far more engaging than I feared it might be
Published 24 days ago by Matt Moxon
3.0 out of 5 stars Backstabbing overload.
Amusing account of the "luvvie" world. Backstabbing overload.
Published 24 days ago by Pickering
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 4 months ago by M. L. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Startlingly honest
I read this after the hugely enjoyable National Theatre Story (Daniel Rosenthal). It was nice to focus on on those early years. Michael Blakemore writes superbly. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Giles Christian
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I felt Michael Blakemore was obsessed about being unjustly sacked from The National Theatre by Peter Hall and still very angry about it and Peter Hall. Read more
Published 11 months ago by GREYHOUND
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind the scenes at the national
This is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at the National Theatre. Elegantly written and very readable.
Greed ,ambition, plotting and human fraility are all here.
Published 12 months ago by s clarke
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
A really good antidote to the glowing accounts of Olivier and Peter Hall. Maybe he goes beyond the boundaries of good taste but I loved it!
Published 12 months ago by andrew wall
5.0 out of 5 stars Indiscrete at times
Ideal for those, like me, who practise theatre and enjoy appreciating how it is constructed from a bare platform and pieces of film flam. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Antony Johnson
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