A history of acting in twelve chapters

A personal and unscientific meander through
five hundred years of British theatre

Working cover

It’s quite an undertaking, but I have pledged to post a chapter of this book a month, in biteable chunks, on Substack.

The subtitle of the book is a clue to its nature. Those who know me and my writing know I am not an academic and I don’t have an academic mind. What I do have is a long life spent in various aspects of the theatre – acting, writing, teaching, excavating – and a fascination with the world of theatre and how it has reincarnated itself over the centuries.

The book is intended very much as a personal exploration into how theatre began in this country, beginning before Shakespeare and moving gradually to the present day. Who were the actors? How did they get to be actors and why did they want to do it in the first place? Their backgrounds, their characteristics, what they think it takes to be an actor, and on and on as the mood takes me.

As I am effectively publishing the first draft of my book it will need editing and maybe even correcting here and there, which is why I am definitely looking for feedback not just about the content or the accuracy of it, but the tone. I like to think my books are above all readable. I’ve spent too many hours poring over incomprehensible texts in the course of my own studies to ever want to be bracketed with those academics who write in lengthy sentences with no punctuation using the kind of language only they could possibly cognize.

The real challenge in such a book is not so much the writer’s knowledge or her ability to research, it’s to turn months or years or a lifetime’s preoccupation into a page-turner. Let me know how I’m doing!

February 2024

Keeping a diary

If Shakespeare had kept a diary there would arguably be far fewer books written about him.


If we knew for instance

  • What he got up to during the ‘missing years’
  • How he got to leave his home in Stratford and fetch up as an actor/playwright in London
  • How much of the 37 plays he actually wrote
  • Whether Shakespeare was Shakespeare or someone else
  • Who the Dark Lady of the sonnets was
  • Whether or not he got on with his wife
  • Etc etc etc

We wouldn’t need to endlessly speculate. And it would not be half as much fun.


What will people say about you when you’re gone? 

Diary-less ancestors tend to be remembered for what they did rather than what they might have said. Or rather for what they did that made the public records. So we are likely to know more about men than women, especially if they played a prominent part in society. We may also know more about the ones who got into trouble, and the ones with police records, especially if they ended up in Australia.

Who was Mary Pitt?

As a family historian I’d have given anything for my ancestors to have kept diaries so I knew exactly why my four times great grandmother decided to emigrate to a penal colony. 

On the other hand lacking the facts gives one scope for one’s imagination; so what would have been a case of simple transcribing becomes something rather more creative. The challenge of filling in the gaps while remaining as true as possible to the character you think your four times great grandmother was, for instance, is a fascinating one. 

A certain amount of mystery is no bad thing.

If you want to read the story of my pioneering Australian ancestress please click here: The Worst Country in the World.


 Who was Claudia Faraday?

Claudia Faraday?

Claudia kept a detailed diary of a crucial period in her life when she made a discovery that altered her entire outlook on life and on the people in it. The fact that she kept this diary in her loft, to be discovered by generations to come, suggests to me she wanted them to be found, and to be published.

Nonetheless such was the intimate nature of the diary I went to great lengths to protect her reputation by not just changing her name but the names, and some details, of her daughters and her friends, and a few other bits and pieces beside.

So I defy anyone to identify her.

If you’d like to read her story click here: The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday.

Have you kept a diary?

I have, from time to time. It makes for hilarious and sometimes embarrassing reading. It is also a handy reminder of the person you once used to be, and if you think – as I often have  – you are still an eighteen-year-old wrapped up in a middle-aged woman’s body, it is good to be reminded that, actually, you aren’t.

But I wouldn’t want anyone to read them, no way. Unlike Claudia I will make a point of destroying them before I pop my clogs.