wed 12/08/2020

Ballet biography wins top theatre book prize | reviews, news & interviews

Ballet biography wins top theatre book prize

Ballet biography wins top theatre book prize

Jann Parry's study of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan is book of the year

The Society for Theatre Research’s book of the year award has been won by ballet critic Jann Parry for Different Drummer, her biography of the Royal Ballet choreographer Kenneth MacMillan. The book was chosen this morning in a tight finish at the post above Susie Gilbert’s Opera for Everybody: the Story of English National Opera, Andrew Stott’s The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi, The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre Historiography by Thomas Postlewait and The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theatre, edited by Richard Dutton (Oxford University Press). Sheila Hancock presented the accolade, including £400 prize money, in the Grand Saloon at Drury Lane before an audience of actors, academics and writers.

“I don’t think I read a more fascinating or more exhaustively researched volume all year,” said one of the three judges, theatre critic Mark Shenton. “Biography can be an act of remarkable trust, and [Sir Kenneth’s widow] Deborah MacMillan's was rewarded with this candid, uncompromising, but loving portrait of a candid, uncompromising and complicated man. He was an intensely private man, and Parry points out that his family found out more about him from his ballets than from conversations at home. Now, however, we can all have a posthumous conversation with a great man and see the work in the context of who created it. It is a remarkable achievement.”

Jann Parry was dance critic of The Observer from 1983 to 2004 and has written for many other publications. The other judges were Professor Jane Moody of York University and actor Matthew Kelly, chaired by Howard Loxton for the STR.

The prize has been given annually since 1997 for the best book published in English during the past year on the history and technique of British or British-related theatre. The last ballet book to win was Meredith Daneman’s biography of Margot Fonteyn (2004); previous winning books include Patrick Lonergan’s Theatre and Globalisation: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era (2008), Michael Billington’s State of the Nation (2007),  John Heilpern’s John Osborne: a Patriot for Us (2006), James Shapiro’s 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), Sir Richard Eyre’s National Service (2003) and Christopher Morash’s A History of Irish Theatre (2002).


Jann Parry gave us an exclusive interview about the book soon after publication. I can highly recommend the book - it's beautifully written, highly readable and quite simply fascinating.

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