Over forty-plus years, Joseph Donohue spent many days in London libraries researching theatrical subjects and many afternoons and evenings in London theatres, witnessing almost one hundred twenty-five productions of original plays and revivals and recording his experience in a series of meticulously kept journals. This chronicle of West End and fringe performance sets down the perceptions of a lifelong American theatregoer who over time made London almost a second home. It reveals a writer with a persistently curious, skeptical mind, alive to innovation and open to fresh interpretation, while always aware of the pitfalls that make theatrical production one of the riskiest but also one of the most rewarding of artistic pursuits.
The result, documented in these pages, amounts to an account of the London theatre over decades of sometimes turbulent social change and artistic advancement. It is a history informed by a lifetime of study and teaching of ancient, Renaissance, modern, and post-modern plays and their vital theatrical dimensions. The focus lies centrally on the individual character of each production, embracing the action of the play, the quality of the acting and other production values, and the ideas that give shape and purpose to the dramatist’s self-imposed task.The writing, personal yet objective, is by turns serious and humorous. It does not mince words, and yet remains fair and even generous. Keeping the theatre audience much in mind, as well as a varied readership, it aims at vivid, incisive description and, finally, measured judgment of production, play, and author. Gradually a deeply felt, cumulative sense emerges of what dedicated playgoing is really like and why the London theatre has been preeminent for so very long.
The programs that accompany these reviews have been donated to the Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and may be consulted on application to the Special Collections librarian. The collection is called the Joseph Donohue Collection of Theatre Programs and Theatrical Ephemera.