The Rules of Acting by Michael Simkins

the rules of acting“…one man in his time plays many parts.”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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.

Michael Simkins
Michael Simkins

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.

giving his Sir Humphrey Appleby opposite Robert Daws in Yes, Prime Minister
giving his Sir Humphrey Appleby opposite Robert Daws in the stage production of Yes, Prime Minister

“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…”

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

43 thoughts on “The Rules of Acting by Michael Simkins

  1. FictionFan – When they’re well-written (i.e. not self-aggrandising), mostly-memoirs like this can be fantastic. It’s good to hear that this one is neither too self-conscious nor too self-serving. And I’m sure that the ‘guide’ aspect of it is also useful.

      • I’ve seen it, yes. No, I think Kitchen Foyle needs beat over the head with you know what. The best Foyle episode was the one with Laurence Fox, who’s a great actor by the way.

        Person of Interest is way better… 😉

        (Thank you Chris my man.)

        • Kitchen Foyle 😆 – I’ll think of that now every time I roast a chicken…

          Indeed, I love Laurence Fox too (chafafah!) but what have you got against Michael Kitchen? I’ve never seen Persons of Interest – should I?

  2. Great review as always but have to admit that I have never been a fan of this particular genre of books. Professor, I believe he played, Superintendent Hugh Reid. Of those that I have read about acting, Simon Callow’s ‘Being an Actor’ was by far the best.

    • Thank you! It’s not a genre I read very often either, but I’d read that this one was supposed to be very funny, and can now confirm that rumour! I haven’t read ‘Being an Actor’ but Callow’s biography of Dicken’s was wonderful. He looked at Dickens’ life from the angle of his involvement in theatre and his public readings – a real joy to read.

  3. Sounds good. You are quite right about the recognition factor – the name meant nothing to me, but as soon as I saw the picture I realised that I had seen him in quite a few things.

    • I know – I’d never have read it based on the title. It was the blurb that sucked me in. He does give lots of tips about the business that might be genuinely useful to aspiring thesps – but the humour works for a much wider audience, though possibly a UK one mostly.

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