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Stage Blood: Five tempestuous years in the early life of the National Theatre Hardcover – 16 Sep 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (16 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571241379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571241378
  • Product Dimensions: 16.1 x 3.1 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 441,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

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.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
'My thoughts now turned to the Australian tour of The Front Page.'

Ho hum. Oddly for something so constricted in time and space, this lacks the intensity of Arguments with England, its rivetting predecessor, which retails his life up to this point. Plainly all the NT/Larry buffs who rate Blood so highly have not read Arguments (just 5 reviews!), immeasurably its superior and which, having finished, one is consumed with the desire to read again. So good I ordered the hardback. Try it
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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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Format: Hardcover
'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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Paperback
Michael Blakemore's account of his five years at the National Theatre is funny, gripping, brilliantly written, superbly structured and just possibly true. Of course, everybody's truth is different and Peter Hall gives a quite different account, but Blakemore is highly skilled in making his own version seem plausible. His account is also valuable for its insights into the skill of directing, into theatre management and the tumultuous reign of Hall's predecessor, Laurence Olivier.

For all his caprice and unpredictability, Olivier is clearly the hero, with Hall as the nemesis who squandered Olivier's heritage and turned the National into a vehicle for his own lust for power and money. Blakemore is keen to stress Hall's strengths and talents, which only helps disarm the reader and makes the barbs more biting. He attacks Hall's reputation as the 'founder' of the Royal Shakespeare Company, claiming he renamed and developed an existing institution (while giving credit to Hall for what he did) and that the achievements of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre and its luminaries such as Anthony Quayle "disappeared down Hall's gullet".

Of course it should all be taken with a pinch of salt, but so much of Britain's theatrical history has been cast in the version told by Hall (Wikipedia says he founded the RSC; the RSC itself does not) that some balance doesn't go amiss, even if Blakemore is hardly more objective than Hall.

One criticism is the pictures: all the photos are from play rehearsals, which doesn't reflect the book at all. Photos of the main characters in the book would have been useful, but none of them are there except Blakemore and Olivier (in rehearsals, naturally). What about Dexter and Tynan? Surely Peter Hall was worth depicting?
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