Compiled by Hannah Bellamy
Novels about theatre are a pretty niche genre. More often, novels about theatre are considered part of other genres, such as romance, thriller, or historical fiction, and theatre is just the backdrop. Amazon isn’t going to buddle these books together, so here are our suggestions for theatre fiction to add to your reading list!
Next Season by Michael Blakemore
A young actor struggles to make his way in the theatre, experiencing the quick, intense relationships that flare within the closed world of the theatre as he acts out small, solid roles with a famous classical company outside of London.
The Garrick Year by Margaret Drabble
Once a model and now a mother of two, Emma has little life of her own. When her husband David is invited to star in two plays in Hereford, Emma is obliged to leave her beloved London behind and the resentment begins to surface.
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
In the debut novel from Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton, a teacher’s affair with his underage student jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own power. It seems their every act is a performance, every platform a stage. But when the local drama school turns the story into their year-end show, the real world and the world of the theatre are forced to meet. With the dates of the performances approaching, the dramas, real and staged, begin to resemble each other, until they merge in a climax worthy of both life and art.
Shakespeare’s Rebel by C.C. Humphreys
You may have caught the stage adaption at Bard on the Beach, but the novel is still worth reading. The historical fiction follows Shakespeare’s fight scene designer, John Lawley, from the scaffold of the Globe theatre to a menace in Whitehall.
The Understudy by David Nicholls
Thirty-two-year-old actor Stephen C. McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen) is waiting for his big break. At the moment, he’s paying the rent by understudying movie star Josh Harper, who’s trying to gain dramatic credibility in a West End play. If only Josh would miss a performance, Stephen-with-a-P-H could prove his talent and redeem himself in the eyes of his disapproving ex-wife and their precocious seven-year-old daughter.
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
When seventeen-year-old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels, who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel’s reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London’s East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire, a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths.
Morality Play by Barry Unsworth
A small troupe of actors accompanied by Nicholas Barber, a young renegade priest, prepare to play the drama of their lives. Breaking the longstanding tradition of only performing religious plays, the group’s leader, Martin, wants them to enact the murder that is foremost in the townspeople’s minds. A young boy has been found dead, and a mute-and-deaf girl has been arrested and stands to be hanged for the murder. As members of the troupe delve deeper into the circumstances of the murder, they find themselves entering a political and class feud that may undo them.
Wise Children by Angela Carter
In their heyday on the vaudeville stages of the early twentieth century, Dora Chance and her twin sister, Nora―unacknowledged daughters of Sir Melchior Hazard, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his day―were known as the Lucky Chances, with private lives as colourful and erratic as their careers. But now, at age 75, Dora is typing up their life story.