Book review: Astonish Me! First Nights That Changed The World

This absorbing book is Dominic Drumgoole’s personal canon of what shook sensibilities in the art and entertainment worlds through time.

Some examples are within the last hundred years – Lorraine Hansberry, Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, Fela Kuti, Beyonce – but many go much further back to the roots of movers and shakers like Michaelangelo.

Once you pick up this book you can dip in and out and read in any order. You will always be entertained by Drumgoole’s slightly waspish sense of wit, his sense of invention and – in a chapter about his late friend and xolleague Sarah Kane – a sense of care and understanding.

This is a book of moments: we are in the audience at Oscar Wilde’s last lauded play; we travel back to ancient Greece as a silent chorus; we witness the birth of Japanese kabuki; we watch Ravi Shankar play at Madison Square Gardens.

With the immediacy of a reporter on the ground, Drumgoole clearly brings us his take on what might have happened, with each chapter bringing a hero from the arts back to life.

His most personal chapter describes his journey as artistic director at the Globe curating a Shakespeare festival across cultural and language barriers.

This is a book which is not academic in tone, but rather an accessible and chatty volume that makes its case clearly for the influence of the past and its creators on performers and practitioners now.

It pulls you back to stand squarely at the most electric of times and see events as they unfold. It is worth picking up the book for the story of The Seagull alone.

Astonish Me! First Nights That Changed The World by Dominic Drumgoole is available from 27 October through Profile Books and major booksellers.