Top critical review
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So much to love, and yet.......
on 4 September 2010
Having just finished the magical 'One Day', my first experience of Nicholls, and been left bereft when the characters left me at the end of the final page I was eager to read the rest of his books. I'm an actress in my mid-twenties and the blurb of 'The Understudy' was instantly incredibly appealing. I thought, "this has been written for me!". But I was wrong. Here are the problems that, as a jobbing actress, I had with 'The Understudy'. Stephen McQueen's career doesn't look that bad and his dwellings don't add up....yes, to any reader the prospect of sitting in a room for months on end never getting to play a part that a world-famous film-star is playing each night looks bleak but the fact is it's a job many young actors (and at 32, Stephen McQueen is still a young actor) would kill and maim for, and the salary of that combined with all the other bits and pieces that are mocked throughout the book (playing a singing squirrel, playing a asthamtic cyclist) don't actually add up to a laughable CV. This is something that the former-actor Nicholls would know. The description of his horrible fridgeless bedsit is very funny but it's just too awful for someone on a West End salary (which would be a minimum of £500 a week) to continue living (it sounds like a £165 a week bedsit to me....). So as dull as all these problems I had with the book are to hear about, roll your eyes all you want, they were little niggles I just couldn't quite get past as I read the trials and tribulations of Stephen McQueen. There is plenty to like, maybe even love, in the book. The dialogue is exceptional (it's no surprise that Nicholls has written for the screen), the characters are beautifully drawn and there IS plenty of truth in the piece. However, the book just sort of.....ends.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!!! And Stephen's big break is painful, really sore because THAT didn't make sense either. Yes, he'd painted the one night he was going to go on as Byron out in his mind to be his 'big break' which all actors know is a little far-fetched, but it is nonetheless a break. Look at Laura Michelle Kelly, whose career took off after she understudied Martine Mccutcheon in 'My Fair Lady'? The role of understudy is one not to be sniffed at but many people not in the know do, and many more will now following Nicholls' book. Maybe it's just because I'm an actress but I just wanted more for Stephen than the book offered at the end. This is, after all, a work of fiction and it was just all too bleak for him, right up until the end. The pace never really gets going and it really needs to.
I feel like all I've done is criticise this book. It's just that, after 'One Day' it had a lot of reality and heartbreak and laughter to deliver and it so nearly DID deliver on all 3 counts....it only just missed.