State of the Nation, By Michael Billington

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A critical account of British theatre since 1945, this is a fascinating slice of cultural history, showing how theatre has reflected and often predicted or even influenced changes in society and politics.

Michael Billington's focus is on the playwrights – not that he neglects the actors, producers and directors, but he regards the writers as most closely attuned to the national heartbeat. He takes us through the concern for social justice of the Attlee period; the on-stage violence of the 1950s; the oppositional stance of the 1960s, neatly divided into playwrights who were "disturbers of the peace" (Orton, Bond), "anatomists of Albion" (Osborne, Bennett) and "contemporary classicists" (Stoppard, Ayckbourn); the left-wing agitprop of the 1970s, the musicals of the 1980s ("the perfect expression of Thatcherite values"); the "theatre of sensation" of the 1990s; and an afterword on theatre in the noughties.

Billington is always fair-minded, but his own left-wing sympathies shine through, giving the book a human feel. Most importantly, he reminds us what a rich treasure we have in British theatre. Memo to self: must go to more plays in 2010.

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