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Book Report: The Year of the Fat Knight

I had enjoyed Antony Sher’s Year of the King enormously, so I was excited to hear that Mr. Sher had published another production diary, this one about his Falstaff, called The Year of the Fat Knight. More excited about the book than the performance, I have to say. I had exactly the reaction that Mr. Sher writes about expecting everyone would have: Really? Antony Sher as Falstaff? How does that work?

As far as the reviews, it seems to have gone well. Although the brief video clip I saw didn’t really knock me out, to be quite honest. It’s not the record of a breakthrough role that the earlier book was, nor a record of a disaster, but a record of a prominent actor in his prime, working under the specific and peculiar conditions of the RSC. He builds Falstaff in fits and starts, blind alleys and moments of clarity, a fat suit and a relationship and a word. It’s the kind of acting-preparation I would like to do, given the enormous resources (and how I would love to be given those enormous resources) and the part. Whether I would be happy with the result, or whether anybody would be happy with the result, is a different question. I would also like to be able to write a production diary as evocative as this one, even if in places it does seem much more like he is writing to us—the putative readers of his published book—than to himself.

I’ll pass along an anecdote, though, my favorite in the book. At one point, earlyish in the rehearsal process, the RSC warehouse guy and drops off a load of rehearsal props. Walking sticks, swords and steins; hats and halberds and half-pint mugs. A lot of drinking vessels, actually, and a lot of weapons. Mismatched stuff, not usable on stage anymore, but good enough to get something in the actors’ hands. A load of old iron. And the actors are gathered around this pile of rubbishy old things, you know, poking at them and seeing what they want, when someone says Hey, Tony! he says, isn’t this yours? And he goes over to see, and in the pile is a beat-up black crutch with an elbow brace, one of the ones he used as Richard III, thirty years before. And everybody goes and looks at it, this relic of Mr. Sher’s youth, of their own professional hopes and dreams, of one generation of the four centuries of Shakespeare plays and players.

I like that.

I’ll be auditioning for a summer production of Othello in a few weeks, and if I don’t get in to that, I’ll be auditioning for a summer production of Twelfth Night later in the Spring. I hope I’ll write about it here, in as much detail as I can. I won’t have an old crutch to center my story on, though. Not yet.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,