Book review: The Final Curtain

Hattie Fisk
Friday, December 1, 2023

This is 'a collection of tributes to the mightiest performers of our lifetimes', says reviewer Hattie Fisk.


The Final Curtain by Michael Coveney, foreword by Sam Mendes
The Final Curtain by Michael Coveney, foreword by Sam Mendes

It might be a funny thing to suggest leafing through a selection of obituaries, but that is exactly what Michael Coveney invites us to do in his recent publication, The Final Curtain. Instead of being mournful or sad, the entries outline how brilliant the lives were of many of the names we discuss in our drama classrooms.

With detailed illustrations of each of the greats by Mia Breuer, the book outlines the career heights of 50 brilliant actors. Paying tribute to some amazing performances, the book features Laurence Olivier, Una Stubbs, Alan Rickman, Lynn Redgrave and Ken Dodd to name just a few.

While the content is sombre, it is also celebratory. Well researched and neatly put together in chronological order, I challenge you not to discover a new piece of information in every listing.

For students, this would be an enlightening read. Many of the names that have been covered have come from humble beginnings or have faced extremely challenging circumstances.

One critique I would have is that the great actors listed are largely white, and I would have liked more diversity here. I would want my students to be reflected in the names featured, and all too often these are dominated by white stars. Having said that, I do respect that this is a historial problem with the theatre industry as much as it is with the choice of stars, but hopefully if this text was to be made again in another 50 years we would have a more diverse list of main characters.

Most recently, the book includes Glenda May Jackson who passed away on 15 June 2023, making the text timely and touching, featuring consistent illustrations throughout.

Ultimately, I put the text down with a new appreciation of the hard work and stunning talent that goes into Britain's greatest performers. I believe this could also have a profound impact on young people if given the chance.

Having said that, its educational merit is limited. I would recommend this as a text to pick up outside of the classroom for students with an interest in theatre history, rather than something that may inform your teaching.