Review of Australia on the Popular Stage: 1829-1929 by Margaret Williams
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 of 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 of the academic respectability of 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 Australia on the Popular Stage 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.
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