😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
Michael Simkins describes himself as a ‘jobbing actor’ who has worked in theatre, TV and film for over thirty years. UK based, he may not be familiar to an overseas audience although he has appeared in many series which have been exported – Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War etc., etc. In fact his name may not even be familiar to Brits, but his face almost certainly will be.
Ostensibly, the book is a guide to people wishing to start a showbiz career, and it does contain a lot of useful advice on drama schools, auditions, theatre work, TV etc. But really all of this is just an excuse for Simkins to share some reminiscences and anecdotes about the weird and wonderful world of the luvvie. And he does so with a gusto that frequently took me way beyond giggling to howling with laughter.
All in all, pantos are stressful affairs for all involved. Indeed, such was the strain of doing up to 12 shows a week that one elderly actor playing the dame in a provincial theatre some years ago expired during the interval of the final performance. Anxious to complete the show, the cast sent on Idle Jack to explain away his mother’s absence in Act Two.
‘You’ll have to be very good children,’ he announced glumly, ‘Because something very sad has happened. My mum’s died…’
‘Oh no she hasn’t!!’ chorused back 500 gleeful voices.
Some of the stories are clearly true, some apocryphal, some possibly embroidered (or dare I say it) perhaps even made up, but they build up to a picture of someone who has thoroughly enjoyed his career – the lows as well as the highs. Simkins has worked alongside some of the true greats of British theatre and TV, and generously praises many of them. The ones he’s less polite about he tends not to name, but mostly it’s quite possible to make a good guess about who he means, which adds a whole other element of fun. There’s a lot of swearing and jokes of a sexual nature, so perhaps not for the over-sensitive – I could have done with less of the extremes of swearing myself in places – but overall the book is so good-natured it would be hard to take offence.
You can’t just busk it like one director I worked with, who was accosted during rehearsals for Love’s Labour’s Lost by the actor playing Dull.
‘Excuse me, but what’s the meaning of this speech I have to say in Act IV?’
‘Which one do you mean?’
‘ “I said the deer was not a haut credo – ‘twas a pricket”’
‘No idea. Is it in the back of the book?’
‘Then just say it quickly and f*** off.’
Simkins takes us through his career from his days at RADA in the 1970s, his apprenticeship in the provincial theatres, on to the West End and the National Theatre. He explains how different TV and film work is to theatre, and it comes over fairly clearly I think that theatre is his real love. If I was being critical, I could comment on some sloppy grammar, but honestly this is like listening to a great raconteur doing a lengthy after-dinner speech, so I stuck my pedantry back in its box for once. Simkins is endearingly self-deprecating – he mentions his many successes but revels in the stories of panto and provincial theatre just as much as in his major roles on some of the great stages of the world. And for someone who has mingled with the stars, he seems to have managed to keep his feet on the ground. A very, very entertaining read – highly recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.
“Could you have imagined in your wildest dreams that one day I’d fly to Hollywood, be driven to the Oscars in a limo, and be recognised at the most exclusive showbiz party on earth?” I said dreamily.
Her muffled reply came from somewhere deep within the duvet.
“To be honest, darling, I don’t think you’ve ever featured in my wildest dreams…”