Antony Sher’s diaries, charting his exploration of some of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles, could easily be marketed as essential ‘how to’ guides for young actors. His honesty and anxiety must be reassuring for performers who no doubt all feel the same way at various points in their careers.
Unlike his previous two efforts, Year of The Mad King also becomes an engrossing story of what it is to age and no longer be at the peak of your physical powers, even as you continue to explore and dig deep into your gifts as a performer.
I’ve been lucky enough to see Sher in the performances that this book encompasses, from his run in Death of a Salesman to a return of his Falstaff (the subject of his previous ‘year’) and then his Lear, both in Stratford and at the Barbican. He’s a performer who never fails to engage me when I watch him. As with all the great actors, there seems to be a genuine through line to his performances; the words, the actions and the silences all seem natural and necessary. It’s wonderful then to be able to read once more his thoughts and feelings as he comes to term with scaling this Everest of roles.
For all that there are some lovely moments of humour (Sher is a self-deprecating writer and is happy to acknowledge his own moments of doubt or mistakes), the book has a sadder tone than its predecessors, as the author deals with difficult times offstage as well as the problems of taking plays around the world.
We also get a glimpse behind the scenes as Sher’s partner (RSC artistic director Gregory Doran) puts together the company’s Shakespeare 400 celebrations.
If you enjoyed Sher’s Lear, his Willy Loman or any of his previous books this is a must read, and if you have any interest in the inner thoughts of a performer at the top of their profession you’ll want to read this too. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find my DVD and revisit the production…