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I love theatre, and I love books. Can you suggest some novels that explore the stage?
The play’s the thing
Books which feature drama or theatre as a subject, or characters who are actors, are also often self-reflective. They can become meta-narratives, which point out the constructed nature of representation, and its distance from the real. Theatre and acting are often used thematically to suggest the performative nature of what goes on off-stage, as well, and the extent to which we may all be actors in our everyday lives, taking on characters or persona, and paired with narratives involving deceit or trickery.
· Hamlet famously contains a play within a play, which its director intends to reveal the truth about its audience, and to point out the performances being played out in the “real” life of Shakespeare’s court.
· In Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed, a group of prisoners stage The Tempest, a play about a man who is the director of the action taking place on an island, complete with special effects, and which itself contains a play, the masque of the goddesses.
· The Garrick Year is Margaret Drabble’s second novel, about the wife of an egocentric actor enduring a season at a provincial theatre festival.
· Mr Rochester stages a play of sorts especially for Jane Eyre, in Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, in which he takes on the role of a fortune teller and predicts her future.
· David Nicholls presents a romantic comedy in The Understudy, about a recently divorced actor deep in a run of bad luck.
· A drama school turns a local high-school sex scandal into a play in Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal, blurring the distinction between performance and reality, public and private.
· The sexual politics of a troupe of actors in a small and shabby playhouse are sharply observed by Beryl Bainbridge, in her darkly comic novel, An Awfully Big Adventure.
· The New Zealand crime writer and theatre director, Ngaio Marsh, wrote a number of theatrical novels, including one about an actor murdered backstage on the Opening Night of a new play at the Vulcan Theatre in London, already the scene of a previous murder.
· The inner life of Marilyn Monroe is imagined by Joyce Carol Oates in Blonde.
· Opening during a production of King Lear, Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven follows a nomadic troupe of actors in a post-pandemic world.