It’s been a busy week of posts here on the blog, and I wasn’t planning to post anything today, but then the news came through that Sir Antony Sher had died. This blog is about books and writing, but please bear with me for this crossover with one of my other passions. Some of you probably know that I love going to the theatre. Going to see a show was one of the things I missed the most during the pandemic.
I’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing performances on stage through the years – some of them from names you’ll recognise from films and TV – like Mark Rylance, Judi Dench and Angela Lansbury – some of them more known to the theatre world. Antony Sher is one of the latter. When it was announced that he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness earlier this year, I was surprised that Him Indoors didn’t recognise his name (or his picture), until I checked back through his IMDB page and realised that most of his credits were for filmed versions of plays. I only saw him on stage once – playing Macbeth at the Swan in about 2000 – but it was amazing. I had been studying Macbeth at school and had struggled (as most school children do I think) with the Shakespearean language. But there was Antony Sher (and Harriet Walter) on stage making it all seem understandable and easy in a way that it wasn’t on the page. I hadn’t seen a lot of live Shakespeare at that point, but I had seen enough to know that it didn’t always work like that.
As Sher worked principally for the RSC in recent years – where his husband is artistic director – and a trip to Stratford always seems like a special effort, and the RSC in London can be quite expensive and hard to get (especially when the reviews were good), that’s my only experience of seeing him live on stage. So why am I writing about him on a book blog? Well it’s because that Macbeth really was very, very good but also because of the books he wrote about his acting.
Although I love going to the theatre, I have never wanted to be on stage myself. The closest I have got since primary school plays was playing in the band for the school musical. The process of creating a performance was a bit of a mystery to me. And that’s where Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight came into my life. I liked it so much I bought his other books about creating great Shakespearean roles and they were equally brilliant. It really gave me a sense of the work and the research that goes into building a performance and creating a character – and probably made me a more critical and analytical theatre goer. Wonderful writing, wonderful acting. And an interesting life, well lived. I’m sorry that there will be no more performances to watch or books to read about them.