The Good Companions is a lovely, warm, fuzzy, well written book (a favourite of mine) about the trials, tribulations, triumphs and tragedies of a small travelling music hall company in the 1920s
Jump forwards 30 years to the setting of Bainbridge's book about the trials, tribulations, triumphs (very few) and tragedies (quite a lot) of a Liverpool repertory company. Originally published in 1989, Bainbridge draws upon some of her own experiences as an actor around that time.
Gone is Priestley's enjoyable, rather sentimental approach. Instead, we have a blackly, bleakly funny and unholy mixture of sex, love, death and religion, all wrapped up in an atmosphere of lower middle-class prurience and and things which are not quite nice and musn't be mentioned (Orton's territory)
This is the story of Stella, an awkward, difficult, naive and impressionable mid-teens. She is also adept at wearing a don't tangle with me mask, making her appear much more hard-boiled and insensitive than she really is. Strings are pulled to get her a job as an ASM in the rep company, as her imaginative, rather histrionic abilities at play-acting her way through her life, suggest to those around her that she may have a theatrical gift.
Bainbridge structures her book beautifully, setting something up at the start, which is only finally revealed at the end, when she collapses, one by one, her house of cards, with a selection of hinted at revelations which are simultaneously as bleak, horribly funny, and shocking as Orton. There is as much going on here as there are in some of the major themes of Greek tragedy, except Bainbridge does the great trick of wrapping the tragedy with absurd, comedic touches.
I'm working through re-reading Bainbridge, following my reading of the wonderful Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend which connects her life, her writing and her art, and this was a wonderful re-read.