How to be a good theatre goer

Susan Cahill talks with John Lahr, the former drama critic of The New Yorker, about his latest book, "Joy Ride: Lives of the Theatricals"

How to be a good theatre goer

"At the Theater" by Honore Daumier, date unknown

Theatre can be an all consuming world. The proximity of the players and tightrope nature of a performance make scenes on stage vividly real. Done well the illusion is total, a world you can touch and live in. Mistakes though are glaringly obvious and can bring the whole facade tumbling down.

For John Lahr the theatre is a realm of magic and joy.

The son of iconic actor Bert Lahr, The Wizard of Oz’s famous Cowardly Lion, and born in LA it could almost be said that John was fated to be involved in the arts. Whatever the case in 1992, after years of writing novels, biographies, and other non-fiction works, John was made senior drama critic at The New Yorker.

For 21 years he remained at this post, writing countless reviews and profile interviews on figures like Ingmar Bergman, Harold Pinter, and Arthur Miller. Two years after his retirement John has released a collection featuring some of his best New Yorker profiles.

Joy Ride: Lives of the Theatricals offers a window into some of the greatest artistic minds of the late 20th century. As John puts it: “I’ve set out to really write portraits of the people who I think are the defining talents in the theatrical world”. But there is more to the book than John just recounting some of, what he regards as, his best works.

Stage and film share the fundamental ingredients of producer, writer, director, and cast; outside of these fundamentals though the makings of good entertainment begin to differ. The live nature of theatre means that the audience, how they interact, event the number of empty seats can impact on a performance.

As John explains: “The film is going to be the same no matter who is in the audience or if nobody is in the audience, but that’s not true of a play...part of my action [in Joy Ride] is to give people more information in order to make them better audiences”.

In Joy Ride, and his general writings on theatre, John hopes to give his readers the context that will help them enjoy the play more, and by extension make the plays themselves better.

Talking with Susan Cahill, the presenter of Talking Books, John explains the thought process behind Joy Ride and his life covering some of the greatest dramas of the 20th century. With fantastic anecdotes and insights he helps to illuminate just what made figures like Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller such great artists.

Rounding off the show Susan talks with Dublin born writer and Aosdana member, Carlo Gebler, about The Projectionist, the memoir of his father and fellow author, Ernest ‘Ernie’ Gebler.

This week’s music to read to

The show opens with Zoe Keating’s Exurgency and plays out of part one with Causeway by Ryan Teague, before ending with Flying and Flocking by Zoe Keating