This is an excellent volume using the successful diary format already tried and tested in Year of the King. Sher is a compulsively readable writer as he talks eloquently about his approach to the unexpected gift of the role of Falstaff in the Henries. Part of the pleasure of this book is peeling away the many layers that make the whole. There is the long section at the beginning where Sher doubts he is right for the role- indeed this book really strips away the powerhouse actor to see one riddled by doubt, insecurity and the worry that he will simply be laughed at. There are sections on the process of rehearsal. Weaved through this are the aspects of his relationship with the director Gregory Doran (his partner) and the latters role as head of the RSC. In addition there are Shers thoughts on other interpretations of Falstaff and its place in the canon ("Larry never played it?"). The diary format melds all this together with descriptions of their life in Stratford and London and Shers other roles as he builds up for Falstaff. This all makes for a heady brew and is beautifully and humanely written. Occasionally real life intervenes - (trivially) they are voted top gay power couple and (monumentally), Mandela dies. Sher is brilliant at describing the process of rehearsals and the finding of his role as Falstaff- the research, the dynamics of rehearsal the talent of the other actors and Greg of course. He also does the diversions well- the busy life of both of them (Gregs schedule is very heavy- directing other plays as well such as Richard 11) and their appearances together at big events as well as holidays...Its a heady mix. This could easily condemned as a luvvie fest and at one point in the book Sher deals with this head on commenting on how hard the work is. There is also the question of the roles he does. Clearly he benefits from Dorans job. It is clear that he was a successful and starry actor before he met Greg but its the wrong question to ask why he gets so many big roles- more why are plays chosen that provide the star vehicle for him- in the book he is due to do Falstaff, Willy Loman and Lear. This is not all to do with Doran though. Many other big RSC names have gone onto success in films and TV. Sher is one of the last remaining big RSC names that hasn't done that- his film appearances are relatively few, his TV work relatively niche- hence he has flourished at what he is best at- stage and theatre acting and the RSC has capitalised on that. Indeed in the book he goes to New Zealand to be in Peter Jacksons Lord of the Rings working with McKellan only to find later that his role is completely cut from the finished version- because the film is already too long. To summarise.this is a fine book. The prose is sparkly and muscular and gets to the heart of what it is to play a great role. Sher has to be convinced about the star status of Falstaff (rarely mentioned in a list of great roles for actors) but eventually and very late comes to see the strengths and challenge of the role. The drawings are perhaps not as effective as those in Year of the King (no Kray Twins and other nefarious villains) but they are still things of beauty and are ample evidence of Shers renaissance man status. I finished this hoping that he will do a similar book on his journey to do King Lear....which roles come after that will be of interest since Lear is the pinnacle......thats Sher lot for now.
This was a fascinating insight into how an actor prepares for a major Shakespearian role. I'm still trying to get my head around the concept of having to act in one play each evening but spend the day beginning to learn lines for another. A little puzzled by my hard-back copy not having any photographs even though there were italicised instructions where to put them! Shame, as I'm dying to compare Anthony Sher's drawings! I'm also keen to find out what happened when he interviewed murderers as preparation for playing Macbeth. It's only hinted at in this book.
This is a GREAT READ - particularly anyone who has seen the productions to see what went on. Very revealing about how a stage actor goes about learning, rehearsing and playing a leading Shakespearean role. Antony's portraits are also amazing and worth buying the printed copy to see them.