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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2013
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.

Whilst the title of the book can refer to many of the smaller skirmishes outlined within its pages, the reader is left in no doubt that its thrust is primarily aimed at Blakemore's extended battle with Peter Hall. This occupies much of the last 100 pages. Blakemore reveals how Hall continuously stripped away the foundations of Olivier's achievements and turned the focus more to star power and away from the importance of the ensemble.

I still recall my own shock when reading Peter Hall's `Diaries' in the early 1980s at his rapier-pike focus on making more and more "real" money. As Blakemore points out, whilst continuing to be paid an NT salary vastly higher than Olivier's, his extra-curricular fee-generating activities included not only extended absences as Director of Productions at Glyndebourne Opera and mounting the ill-fated centenary Ring cycle at Bayreuth, he had persuaded his Board to change previous policy so that producers of NT plays transferring for commercial runs in the West End and/or Broadway were paid huge royalties even though none were paid to the NT itself where the productions originated. At present-day prices the transfer of Hall's own admittedly masterful production of "Amadeus" to Broadway alone is estimated to have brought him an additional £5.5 million or so. Hall, suggests Blakemore, was running two separate businesses: one on behalf of the National, the other for himself.

How the NT Board could have been so neglectful in its duties is the one question left largely unanswered. It is one that should form the basis of another account as revealing and honest as `Stage Blood'.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 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
on 13 October 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2013
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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on 28 April 2014
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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on 1 February 2014
i COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. FOR ANY ONE WITH A SPECIAL INTEREST IN THE THEATRE, AND IN PARTICULAR OF THE ERA OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE NATIONAL THEATRE- , THIS IS NOT TO BE MISSED. THE WRITING IS OUTSTANDING (THE TERM "BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN" HAS LOST ITS SIGNIFICANCE SINCE IT IS USED ABOUT EVERY THREE LINES IN ANY REVIEW). THE "INSIDE STORY AND INFIGHTING OF THE TIME IS IRRESISTIBLE, BUT WHAT I PARTICULARLY ADMIRED WAS THE BALANCE THE WRITER ACHIEVES BETWEEN PROFESSIONAL ASSESSMENT AND PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT WHEN HE MIGHT WELL HAVE BEEN TEMPTED SIMPLY TO PRESENT THE LATTER. I HAVE INSTANTLY ORDERED TWO MORE OF MICHAEL BLAKEMORE'S BOOKS.
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on 19 December 2013
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 26 March 2014
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!
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on 4 February 2014
Ideal for those, like me, who practise theatre and enjoy appreciating how it is constructed from a bare platform and pieces of film flam. Blakemore has enough perspective not to seem arch and cynical - he clearly loves the National Theatre and (most of) the people who have trailed along the concrete walkways. Some happy memories of particular productions revived.
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on 7 January 2014
because the book is so interesting and well written,and it is very important for the public to know about Peter Hall was up to behind the scenes and how ambitious and ruthless he really was, also you really get to know Sir Lawrence oliver and what made him tick ,and without doubt the reasons why he will always be our greatest actor
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