Margaret Williams' book has been subtitled 'an historical entertainment in six acts'. Its format—quarto size, large print, generous margins, plentiful illustrations—seems designed for the coffee table. Anyone who reads the text, however, will discover that this is a highly scholarly work, based on Dr Williams' pioneering thesis on nineteenth century Australian drama. This discrepancy between form and content points to the present impasse in studies o f Australian popular culture. Or perhaps it may be truer to say, in the presentation and reception o f such studies. There is still some suspicion o f the academic respectability o f this area. Equally, there seems to be an unstated assumption that studies of popular culture should themselves be popular, i.e. entertaining, easily assimilated, unrigorous.
Those who approach Australiaon the PopularStage with these assumptions are bound to be disappointed. Despite the subtitle, it is not theatre history of the old-fashioned gossipy, anecdotal kind. Essentially, it is a work of reclamation.