Hurai, by Harry Love (Steele Roberts, 2011) 72 pp. $19.99; Plays 2: London Calling-Blue Sky Boys, John, I’m Only Dancing, Waterloo Sunset, by Ken Duncum (Victoria University Press, 2011) 276 pp. $35.00.
As the book market slips inexorably towards e-book as the preferred format, you wonder what market remains for that print anomaly, or anachronism: the play-text. Beyond the realms of first-year set readings at university or in high school class-rooms, does anyone actually buy and read plays? Professionals who read looking for product do, of course, but how many people seriously programme plays in New Zealand? Surely no more than say fifty tops. Not enough to sustain proper book print-runs, you would think. Yet you do still see books of plays displayed in leading bookstores like Unity. Writers’ Festivals seldom include playwrights, and you really have to hunt around to find texts for sale of any plays associated with Arts Festivals. All the more credit, then, to Victoria University Press, a stalwart of play publishing for decades, and to Steele Roberts. Both publishers must consider that there is some kind of market.
Play-texts, actually, in England anyway, were available from the 1590s onwards, often selling like hot cakes outside theatres next to actual sellers of hot cakes; and since then successful plays have always found a later life in print sought out by readers for entertainment as well as drama groups. Scholars note that Thomas Bodley, whose collection founded Oxford University’s famous Bodleian library, refused to buy plays, considering them to be ephemera. Many might now disagree. And yet there remains something innately perverse or ambivalence-making about the reading of a play-text for its own sake. The fictions and nonfiction works reviewed on this Landfall Review Online site, along with most of the poetry discussed, is designed for the reading eye. Effectively a solitary reader is the target market.