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Fat Chance [Paperback]

Simon Gray
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Mar 2005
In February 1995, Simon Gray's Cell Mates opened at the Albery Theatre, London, starring Stephen Fry and Rik Mayall. A few days later, Stephen Fry mysteriously - and famously - vanished, leaving in his wake a mixture of anger and incomprehension, turmoil and gallantry. Fry's understudy stepped in, a replacement was found, but just three weeks later, the play closed. Fat Chance is Simon Gray's intimate story of how a West End play was made and unmade, a classic account of theatrical misadventure.

Product details

  • Paperback: 126 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (7 Mar 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862077460
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862077461
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 573,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Simon Gray was born in England in 1936 and was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is the author of over 30 plays, including Butley (1971), Otherwise Engaged (1975), Quatermaine's Terms (1981), The Common Pursuit (1984), Cell Mates (1995) and Japes (2000) and has published several volumes of diaries and books about the theatre, including The Smoking Diaries published by Granta. He lives in London.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Simon Gray (who sadly died last year) never wrote a dull line in his life, and this book rivetingly tells his side of the notorious 'Cell Mates' saga of 1995. 'Cell Mates' was Gray's play, meditated for over five years, about the spy George Blake and his fellow convict Sean Bourke. After initial hesitations, Stephen Fry was cast as Blake, Rik Mayall as Bourke and rehearsals boded well. (Fry had appeared in other Gray projects, including the excellent 1990 BBC film 'Old Flames' opposite Simon Callow.) The play opened on February 17th 1995 but Fry abruptly quit the play a few days later following hostile reviews, (making national news at the time).
Initially, it was feared Fry might have committed suicide and 'Fat Chance' suggests Gray was genuinely anxious about Fry during this period. While Gray was seemingly generous and supportive immediately after Fry disappeared, his sympathies cooled markedly later. 'Fat Chance' displays this cooling-off in detail, and sometimes makes unedifying (if hypnotic) reading. The book was begun before the play closed in March 1995 and is sometimes a bit selective in its portrayal of Gray's behaviour, (e.g. not saying much about his explosive press-release of 2nd March 1995). Neither party came out unscathed: Fry publicly acknowledged a history of depression, while Gray's health collapsed as soon as 'Fat Chance' was finished.
Other Gray memoirs suggest he didn't readily (if ever) forgive disappointments, nor scruple about revisiting them in print. (See the well-nursed wrath of Gray's 'An Unnatural Pursuit' or 'How's That For Telling 'Em, Fat Lady?'.) Gray offers a convincing tribute to the resourcefulness of Fry's co-star, Rik Mayall, but can't resist insinuating things about Fry (and his fans) which are none too relevant or helpful. While it details a sad (in both senses) story, 'Fat Chance' is a compelling read, made up of generosity and spite, high ambition and low digs. I couldn't put it down.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The other side 18 Dec 2008
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars revealing 4 July 2012
By Nimsay
The one person you learn about more than anyone else in this book is Rik Mayall. It gives a clear insight into how professional that guy really is. It also gives a refreshing honesty about the reality of that business.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, waspish book 6 Jun 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well, so this is what happened when Stephen Fry abandoned "Cell Mates" becaue of a health crisis back in the 1990s. It makes for an interesting story, even if we only see Gray's admittedly prejudiced side of it. Gray writes beautifully, always, with wit and resignation and a certain grim pleasure in life's vicissitudes. Most of his other boooks and diaries give a fascinating look into the world of British (and occasionally American) theatre, showing that world from the inside, from the playwright's point of view. So does this one, and if at least one review found it lacking compassion for Fry, this is Gray's story, and Rik Mayall's, about one particular production, scuppered by Fry's departure. It's a wonderful if not always happy read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious 22 Mar 2013
By jenny
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great, the author's unselfconscious narcissism is rolled gold. Nobody involved in the saga comes out well. Very funny all around
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