Now how do I make this comparison without in any way devaluing what has been a really good read, because I wouldn't wish to do that, but after my tussle with Nicole Krauss's Great House and sensing a mismatch, timing all wrong etc I needed some straightforward reading that didn't leave me led blindfold and led along in the dark by a complex authorial hand. Lucky Break by Esther Freud, with its foray into the world of acting, proved to be a fine example of that literary juxtaposition and saved my reading bacon.
Looking back I see that I first read Esther Freud and her semi-autobiographical novel Hideous Kinky in early 1994, in fact my second book of that year according to the journal. It was preceded by Mr Wroe's Virgins by Jane Rogers and followed by ...and here I am a little embarrassed to admit it in company but in the interests of transparency will have to, Fire on Ice Torvill and Dean's autobiography, for which I hope I can be forgiven. Back on track next with The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor then No Other Life by Brian Moore and The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan. So Torvill and Dean a brief aberration no doubt encouraged by the fact that Offspringette and I had bought into the craze and went to see them perform.
I'd feel a bit better if a few more people owned up to sharing that craze too.
Oh go on, I'm sure we can be forgiven an indulgence, we haven't had a T&D moment for a while and it's all acting anyway, just with a bit of ice and some different shoes on.. Mack & Mabel, one of my mum's favourites.
Gorgeous aren't they... I always love that train bit...
So where were we.
Right, Esther Freud, so then quite a gap before I read Gaglow in 1998 and then nothing since which is surprising because somehow a writer I enjoyed immensely had fallen off my radar, so when Lucky Break arrived I was definitely ready to reacquaint.
A group of students meet for their first day at Drama Arts and with nerves jangling and embryonic stage-fright clearly in evidence they meet their tutors
Esther Freud draws on her own experiences at drama school for this one having trained as an actor (being PC I don't think we are allowed to call them actresses any more are we?) and is now married to one, David Morrissey (most recently of South Riding fame...Robert Carne) so plenty of primary source luvvie-land experience to fall back on. Nor does Esther Freud stint on the wry-eyed look at a profession that to many of us out here flogging ourselves to death at the sharp end may seem just a little tinged with vanity and self-delusion. Given that a proportion of an actor's life is spent pretending to be someone else it's a profession ripe for all that stereo-typing, yet somehow Esther Freud manages to sidestep, dig beneath the surface articulating the lives of ...well real and normal people. In fact I've met an actor recently, fellow blogger Will Rycroft currently performing in War Horse, and he seemed very normal to me too:-),
Well who knew there was this much to it all as the silky-voiced Silvio, in his woollen trousers and black top, puts his students through their paces as they learn to Inhabit Their Characters after the fiercely aggressive Patrick has done the warm welcome...
'I'm going to start today with the first baby steps of your education, by initiating you into the marvels and sophistication of the earliest documented era of theatre. The reason for this, and I know it's not usually considered polite to mention it, but young people who drift towards acting as a profession usually do so because you're Goddamn F*****g Useless at anything else.'
Well we're under no illusions now are we, Esther Freud has dispelled my preconceptions with one hefty swipe. There will be 'no prancing around in fancy dress, no public shows until the third year' if they make it that far and lots of Sensing, Thinking, Intuiting, Feeling...Weight, Space, Time, Flow. And, well, that was me in and enjoying drama school, who'd have thought it, and thence completely involved in the lives of young Nell and Charlie, Jemma and Dan et al and their mixed rises and falls in fortune.
In fact with Nell (plump and plain, kicked out at the end of her second year but finds work in rep and touring theatre), Dan (the adonis, the rising star somewhat held back by his wife Jemma, another failed student) and Charlie (stunningly beautiful and whose meteoric rise to fame the moment she graduates is bound to come with an emotional price tag) Esther Freud seems to cover the three possible options for the stereotypical image of an actor that I would have in my mind were I ever to have given it any thought... which I don't think I may have done until I read Lucky Break.
There are moments of genuine pathos that would have been hilarious to me as the outsider I am, had Esther Freud not taken the trouble to draw me in and explain things a little. Poor Nell and her encounter with the famous director whose intentions in calling her to his home for a chat about a film role are less than honourable. Or rather than thinking perhaps 'oh for goodness' sake how shallow can people be' I was genuinely as mortified as Charlie when her normally lustrous complexion spouted an outbreak of pimples in the midst of filming... and I'm wanting to pass her the tea tree oil and advise against slapping on more pore-clogging Leichner.
Heck Leichner, that takes me back to school plays at primary school and insisting on wearing the make-up on the 118 bus home, in fact who knows what dormant vocation could lay here untapped...
'Babette's method acting class took place in the large oval hall. A stage had been set up at one end ...one by one the students were expected to step up on to it and present their understanding of Stanislavsky's Action and Three Activities for her discerning eye....'
Hmm, no on second thoughts...