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276Comparative Drama rate edition that substantially advances the cause of scholarship, and is a book I will continue to use and enjoy. DAVID BEVINGTON University of Chicago Christopher Innes. Modern British Drama, 1890-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Pp. xxiv + 484. $59.95 (casebound) $18.95 (paperbound). This is a title that many have been waiting for, a comprehensive survey in one volume covering in fair detail the last hundred years of British playwriting. In many ways it will meet expectations. With an impressive and confident grasp on this rich and various period Professor Innes tells the story of the English theater that followed the late Victorian development of the naturalistic play of ideas and the sparkling revolution created by G. B. Shaw in the wake of Ibsen. The story is told in roughly three parts. Shaw has pre-eminence through the first and longest third of the book, touching plays which pursue social themes in an ostensibly realistic way from Barker and Galsworthy via Osborne and Wesker to Bond and Hare. Perhaps to avoid a procession, the story then back-tracks to trace British comedy from Wilde and Synge to Pinter and Stoppard, and then again to search out quasi-poetic forms from Barrie and Yeats to Eliot and Beckett. If this dividing and foreshortening uncovers strange bedfellows, it is because Innes' grand design tends to betray his best intentions. He has a wonderfully sharp eye for the borrowings and influences that link one writer with another—I flip a page to read with fascination that Shaffer's Equus takes its idea of the dissecting room from Grotowski's The Constant Prince, and the inversion of light and dark in his Black Comedy derives from the Peking opera—and it may be that this gift encourages him to weave patterns in order to separate more realistic social and political plays both from comedy and satire and from poetry and symbolism . He acknowledges the "continual crossovers" in his schematizing and recognizes "oblique social commentary" in comedy—that of Peter Barnes, for example, "moves the boundaries" when he introduces Jack the Ripper and Auschwitz. But of course Innes' different kinds are not properly dramatic genres before they are different styles of theater, and in this age of multiple choices from the imaginary museum, poetic drama is as likely as not to be satirical, and farcical comedy will probably conceal an implicit social criticism. In this century, moving the theatrical boundaries, and certainly the goalposts, is the very name of the game. So the structure of this otherwise helpful history produces a few embarrassments. While Yeats retains his erstwhile poetic dignity, shuffling the styles drops expressionistic O'Casey among the realists and poetic Synge among the comedians. Lady Gregory is virtually omitted, and, chronologically fragmented, the Irish movement suffers mortally. Somerset Maugham's social criticism, like Trevor Griffiths' political satire, finds itself in the comic line of Oscar Wilde, while Barrie and Priestley rub shoulders with the poets Yeats and Auden. Such excursions are fun, but not the stuff of guide-books. There is a danger that the mixed chronology Reviews277 actually obscures a sense of the rhythms of the modern British theater: the increasing awareness of the integrity and purpose of European drama at the end of the nineteenth century, the doldrums of the between-thewars London stage, the pressures of Continental stagecraft with the onset of avant-garde theater in the middle years. The book is ordered by a scientific numbering of sections, but, without vitiating the final ends of the book as a sound reference, a simple time-plan may well have served the student reader better. The design also calls for the defining and redefining of styles and fashions, an inevitably hazardous business. But the nonce-word "modernism " and its ugly progeny are nowhere pinned down other than to be associated loosely with Shaw's iconoclasm. It is pleasing to see that as a category "poetic drama" extends its magic beyond the purely verbal; nevertheless, while it comfortably embraces Yeats and Eliot, many plays in this department are identified as a somewhat subjective "poetry of the theatre" and include symbolist, expressionist, and absurdist pieces with gay abandon...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 276-279
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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