The Greatest Shows on Earth: World Theatre from Peter Brook to the Sydney Olympics

John Freeman (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


The Greatest Shows on Earth is a book about fourteen theatre events from a dozen countries. From Peter Brook’s King Lear of 1962 through to the 2010 Oberammergau Passionsspiele, chapters explore work by Jan Lauwers and Needcompany, Robert Lepage, Silviu Purcărete, David Edgar and the Royal Shakespeare Company, Third World Bunfight, Peter Sellars, John Adams, Pilgrim and Tg STAN, alongside exceptional work from Bali, Portugal, Ireland, Germany and the Sydney Olympics Opening Event.

The book’s chapters are written in different ways and from different perspectives, by international actors, directors, playwrights, academics, dramaturgs, dancers and artists, all of whom give themselves over here to the challenge of describing in print that which existed in time and space and most significantly, within specific contexts. This is not as obvious an element of writing about theatre as it may at first appear. Library shelves are heavy with the weight of books written about productions never seen by the authors and whilst this form of more distanced and usually historical scholarship is undoubtedly valuable it is not what The Greatest Shows on Earth is about.

What binds the chapters together is a belief that meaning is about personal interpretation rather than collective understanding; and that whilst the liveness of theatre disappears in a moment, spectatorship can translate into documentation that adds something to a work’s value, even as so much else of value can never be captured in words. In wrestling with ephemerality and memory, The Greatest Shows on Earth does more than make a case for what makes certain theatre ‘great’, it offers examples of writing about theatre that imbue analysis with emotion and documentation with the type of engagement that is usually edited out rather than invited in.

Chapters are contributed by Colin Chambers, Constantin Chiriac, Jean-Marc Larrue, Edward Lewis, Kathy Foley, John Freeman, David Jortner, David Mason, Anthony Mawson, Guilherme Mendonça, Allan Owens, Anne Pellois, Ursula Raffalt, Peter Snow and Kevin Wetmore Jr.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
Number of pages220
ISBN (Print)9781907471544, 1907471545
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


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