December 19, 2012

A Terrific Gift for Your Favorite Theater Lover

Christmas is less than a week away and so you’re no doubt already deep into your shopping list but there may be one person you haven’t gotten around to yet: you. 

Not to worry. I’ve got just the thing for you (or for some other deserving theater lover on your list). For the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has put together “Played in Britain: Modern Theatre in 100 Plays 1945 – 2010,” a terrific iPad app that chronicles the 100 most significant productions to play in London over the past 60 years, from  J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls in 1946 straight through to Laura Wade’s Posh in 2010.

No musicals are included; the play's the thing here.  But there's more than enough to satisfy most theater geeks.  The works of every major British playwright of the postwar period—Beckett, Osborne, Pinter, Orton, Bennett, Churchill, Stoppard—are included. And so are those by several American greats including Miller, Williams, Mamet and Kushner.

Each play is presented with rare captioned photos from the V&A’s theater archives, a brief essay that recaps the plot and the play’s influence and later production history, the cast list for the original production, contemporaneous reviews of that production from both The Guardian and The Telegraph, a bibliography of other major works by the playwright, and suggestions for similar works by other writers. 

But what sets this apart from the usual coffee table book is that because it's an app many of the selections are accompanied by excerpted dialog from the play and audio interviews with people associated with either the original production or a significant revival.

An online website provides even more information, including audio commentary from The Guardian’s chief theater critic Michael Billington on some of the plays that didn’t make the list.  The competition was so stiff that among the also-rans are Pinter’s The Birthday Party and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off.

And there’s more.  Beginning in January, the V&A is offering a 10-week course that further explores its greatest hits list.  That costs about $400, airfare and accommodations not included. So the app itself is a relative bargain at just $11.95.  Click here to find out more about all of it.

Getting a jump start on the holidays, I downloaded the app a couple of days ago and going through it has made me as giddy as, well, a kid on Christmas morning.

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