Review: Lucky Break
Thespian saga that fails to entertain
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All the stage’s a world - of magic, make-believe and make-up
By Esther Freud
There are some superb books about the actor's life. Antony Sher's The Year of the King is a riveting account of playing Richard III in the famous 1984 RSC production. Simon Callow's Being an Actor follows his early career from the letter to Olivier that led him to his first job, to his acclaimed performance as Mozart in the original Amadeus. More recently, Michael Simkins's What's My Motivation? is a comic gem.
Simkins is quoted at the beginning of Esther Freud's seventh novel: "Advice to a young actor starting out: 'It's not fair, and don't be late.'" Enjoy it; you won't find anything as funny or clever in the 300 pages that follow.
Lucky Break tells the story of a group of young actors over a decade-and-a-half, from drama school through the agonies of auditions, finding an agent and screen tests, to the triumphs and failures that follow. It's a world Esther Freud knows well. After an itinerant childhood, famously recalled in Hideous Kinky, the novel that made her name, she came to London at 16 to go to drama school, worked as an actress and later married the actor David Morrissey.
It is strange, then, that the characters throughout the book are so uninteresting. The drama-school teachers are clichéd: camp, self-important and uninspiring. Patrick Bowery, who runs the school, knows and has seen it all. His opening speech will be familiar to viewers of any film or TV series about students starting out at law school (Paper Chase) or medical school (Grey's Anatomy).
The drama-school years are full of soft-core sex, luvvy exchanges in pubs, and poor writing: "How could you not say 'darling', when you'd journeyed through a lifetime with a person, bared your soul, wept tears, exchanged kisses, borne heartache, reached the heights of unimagined bliss?" Dan is offered the part of Hamlet. He is overcome: "Bloody hell"; runs his hands through his hair, "that would be hard to resist." Nine pages later: "They'd just been given the list of plays they would be working on for the next three terms. Hamlet! someone whistled, 'bloody hell.'"
The second half of the novel follows a smaller group from Drama Arts to the world of auditions. Nell is called to a screen test with Hollywood producer, Harold Rabnik, at his palatial home. He tries to seduce her. The glamorous Charlie has a part in a movie: "Marcel leant in for another kiss, his hand, sliding down his side, his body pressing into hers". She goes to meet her boyfriend who is playing in Hedda Gabler: "She closed her eyes, and felt the whole tragic world of Norway, of Ibsen, of lies, ambition and hopelessness, descend upon her."
No interesting characters, terrible prose, no story to speak of. There is none of the life of Callow, Sher and Simkins. They are the real thing.
David Herman is the JC's chief fiction critic