If you read the dramatic newspaper headlines in 1995 about the sudden, unexpected disappearance of Stephen Fry from "Cell Mates" and wondered what the alternative, behind the scenes story really was, then read on. The play that had just started it's London run, following a successful run in the provinces (if Guildford is still a provincial theatre), was playing to packed houses; audiences wanting to see Stephen Fry and Rik Mayall as the lead characters in the play, as much as they wanted to see the play itself. A decent play which had been successful in Guildford, but killed off by audience disappointment at not seeing their beloved Fry. Simon Gray spares no punches in his account, at times acerbic, but usually amusing and at the end understanding of Fry's disappearance, albeit with a teeny bit of bitterness about being so let down by someone who had committed and signed a contract only to renege on it a few days into the play's London performances.
Mr Gray speaks very highly about Rik Mayall, who showed consummate professionalism and a talent for overcoming his own 'nerves' to produce a better and better performance, despite having to play first with the understudy and then to a hastily acquired Simon Ward.
The devastating effects on all the rest of the cast, including all those who are employed both front of house and in the production, that one actor can have due to his actions, is written about in detail. It is a fascinating inside look at what happens within a play and it's performances when one actor reneges on a committment not just to a contract, but also to the other people in the play.
A very engaging read and a book I could not put down, partly due to Mr Gray's perspicacity and humour, even if the latter was sometimes of the dark, almost gallows type.
Definitely recommended if you want another look at the events that prematurely closed a good play.