As if by Chance
David Lan’s evocative, fast-paced memoir takes us all over the globe, introducing us to an extraordinary cast of characters, places and experiences both on stage and off.
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A family day at the beach. There’s a song, an argument, a dash across the white sand and into the high rolling waves. We’re in Cape Town and David Lan is ten years old.
Cut to 1969 and, visiting London fresh out of high school, he interviews theatre luminaries Sybil Thorndike, Tom Stoppard, Trevor Nunn, Paul Schofield before heading home to join the South African army.
Now it’s 1999. We’re at the Young Vic where David is interviewed to be artistic director, a job he’d do for eighteen years, ensuring its flowering into a great world theatre. There’s a redesign to be imagined, money to be raised, shows to be staged. And when the doors reopen in 2006 we meet the extraordinary artists he draws in: Ivo Van Hove, Jude Law, Richard Jones, Gillian Anderson, Patrice Chereau, Katie Mitchell, Stephen Daldry, the Isango Ensemble, Yerma, The Jungle, The Inheritance.
We travel to Peter Brook’s Paris, to Iceland in pursuit of a circus Romeo and Juliet, to Lithuania in search of his great grandparents, to a refugee camp in Congo with Joe Wright and Chiwetel Ejiofor, to Broadway for the Tony Awards. There’s spirit mediums in the Zambezi Valley, Chekhov’s Yalta, Luc Bondy’s Vienna, making a BBC film in Angola, rehearsing a new play in Israel/Palestine.
Along the way, memories constantly rise to the surface: the Royal Court in the 70s and 90s, school plays, his parents’ complicated marriage. Woven through it all is his decades long relationship with playwright Nicholas Wright.
At times hilarious and always deeply felt, David Lan’s deft travels evoke a wildly varied life in theatre as well as a unique theatre of life.
‘Heartfelt, inspirational and evocative.’
Delightfully quirky. . . indisputably a good read.
Lan’s writing glows with his humanity and skill, with his literal worldliness, as he patches together into one narrative all the many lives he has led . . . arranged in delightful disorder and written with the playwright’s flair for dialogue. Memories are not narrated so much as displayed through reconstructed conversation, as if Ivy Compton-Burnett had written a memoir: everything is shown, nothing is told. Lan’s ear for different modes of speech is brilliant. To read the book is to swim in someone else’s memory, unsure what is real, and what has been damaged or retinted by the passage of time, and by the memoirist’s ability to dramatise . . . Lan is linking memory with theatre, and theatre with life.
A zigzagging meditation on the peculiar knottiness of theatre and the processes by which it is made ... Switching between dreamy impressionism and a fierce specificity, it's a searching account of a varied life.
It is a classic, deeply enjoyable and honest account of how ground-breaking international hits are brokered and how theatre in England gave a gay, South African, Jewish exile a home-base.
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