Title: Theatrical (2018)
Author: Maggie Harcourt
Read: 13th – 16th August 2018
Genre: young-adult; contemporary
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Hope dreams of working backstage in a theatre, and she’s determined to make it without the help of her famous costume-designer mum. So when she lands an internship on a major production, she tells no one. But with a stroppy Hollywood star and his hot young understudy upstaging Hope’s focus, she’s soon struggling to keep her cool…and her secret.”
(Synopsis from the publisher)
Having been a huge fan of Maggie Harcourt’s previous novel, Unconventional, which goes backstage to get a peek into the exciting (and sometimes boring!) world of convention organising, I was thrilled to hear she was writing another book that did the same of the theatre world. Though I have no acting ability to speak of, and was never brave enough to volunteer to help out behind-the-scenes of my school’s theatre productions, the backstage world of theatre has always intrigued me. Anyone who knows me will know that I find the “behind the scenes” features on DVDs sometimes more interesting than the actual film it accompanies – I’ve watched the behind the scenes DVDs on each Lord of the Ring Extended Editions an embarrassing amount of times and can quote them to you, not kidding – and this goes for theatre too. There’s something about being in the audience and watching the astounding starry bright-lights of theatre that just makes me itch to find out how it works off-stage, who’s waiting in the wings for their cue, what mid-show routines and rituals people have, what differences in scenes were left in the rehearsal room, and resulted in this polished, slick show I’m lucky enough to be watching.
“I’ve got this whole spiel about close readings of a script and bringing a theatre company together as a family, looking after them and making sure they have what they need. I can talk about theatre as a living, breathing machine where everyone is a cog and it’s only when the cogs are all turning together that the whole thing comes to life.”
So, Theatrical was right up my street. From the start, when I realised it was split up into sections called “audition” “rehearsal” “get-in”, “tech”, “beginners, please” and “get out”, with each chapter then split into acts and scenes, I was immediately endeared to the novel. It really felt like it was being written by someone who had not only done her research into the technicalities of putting on a theatre production but also felt the same way about theatre as her characters did. The love and passion for it just springs off the page, and this, combined with the simple but humorous narrative voice, makes the whole story extremely easy to slip into and begin to empathise with the weird and wonderful cast of characters.
” ‘You aren’t really listening, are you?’
‘What? No. Yes. I am absolutely listening.’
‘You’re not. You’re looking at what’s-his-face over there. I’m looking at you looking at him… looking at you.’ “
Speaking of the characters, we see the story through the first-person narration of Hope Parker, a teenager who loves working backstage in her local theatre and manages to snag a sought-after internship on a major (but very “hush hush”) show which is going into production. Hope happens to be the daughter of a very famous costume designer, something which she is keen to keep “hush hush” herself (as she never wants people to think she got to where she is because she’s her daughter), whilst she also tries to keep the precise nature of her internship secret from her mother too. It’s very easy to understand Hope’s motivations and she’s quickly a very likeable protagonist, undoubtedly aided by her all-too-relatable internal commentary which we, as readers, are treated to.
“he stops to glower at Tommy… who is standing with his hands on his hips, and one foot on a piece of paper. A piece of paper that Nina is trying to pick up. He’s actually stopping her from picking it up. What an absolute bell-end. So much for all those interviews that bang on about how charming he is.“
Moving onto the other characters, Theatrical allows us to meet the many crew members that all go into putting on a successful theatrical production, from the director Rick Hillier to the stage door security Roly, from the bratty Hollywood A-lister Tommy Knight who has been cast in his first theatrical production (wanting to prove himself as a ~real actor~) to his understudy Luke who works front-of-house and in the theatre bar and is working hard at drama school all the meanwhile. Each character has their own quirks and their flaws, and Maggie Harcourt allows us to see each of those personalities clash, particularly in the long hours of rehearsal crowded in the small rented space when tiptoeing around the strange tension between Rick the director, and his leading man, Tommy, becomes just part and parcel of Hope’s internship.
” ‘So let me give you a piece of advice – professional, personal… take this how you want, but do take it: stop it.’
‘This. This thing you do. You walk around with your head down like you’re terrified someone’s going to find you out. It’s… disingenuous. […] You’re afraid you’re an impostor. You feel like one, don’t you? Like you’re a fraud, and someone’s going to discover you.’
To conclude, Maggie Harcourt has done it again – like Unconventional she has opted to go behind-the-scenes to get a feel for the otherwise invisible people that are responsible for making creative shows happen, the stage management teams, the convention staff, so different and yet between Unconventional and Theatrical I am fully convinced that Harcourt has a knack for tapping into what makes people tick, and the passion that runs deep in the heart of every creative in these industries.
“Nobody out there can see us – half of them don’t even know we exist – and that’s exactly how it should be. We are invisible, inaudible, intangible. Theatre ghosts – that’s all we are. And looking around me, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be.”