Dealing with one of Shakespeare’s most famously punishing roles, Year of the Mad King is the latest highly-readable and revealing volume of Antony Sher’s behind-the-scenes diaries

YOTMK signed
Published in 2015, Antony Sher’s Year of the Fat Knight recounted his journey of transformation in bringing Shakespeare’s Falstaff to the stage with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The book was a sequel of sorts to Year of the King, which chronicled the actor’s landmark 1980s Richard III. And now there’s a third volume, Year of the Mad King – and I’m sure you can guess which role this one tackles.

From a Shakespearean point of view, these books are a great read for several reasons. They explore the challenges facing a top-level Shakespeare actor, they take us behind the scenes of a major RSC production, and they share numerous insights into Shakespeare’s texts – some of which have a startling force of revelation. Sher is an engaging narrator, and it certainly feels as though he’s being truthful – painfully so, in fact – with his readers.

The contradictions in his character and status make for an interesting view on things. He’s a celebrated actor, who constantly worries if he’s good enough. He’s famous, but not a celebrity. He’s a knight of the realm, but at times (such as when trying to fix some problems in a Chinese dressing room), he feels virtually powerless. And although Sher is known for playing big characters, there’s also something of an everyman quality to him. He certainly seems to have an instinctive understanding of the kind of details we in the audience would find interesting.

As he takes on the monumental role of King Lear, Sher is in his mid-sixties and coping with a series of family bereavements, a seriously injured arm and a (possibly psychosomatic) deafness that he refers to as ‘Lear’s Ear’. Fighting in his corner, he has his life partner Gregory Doran (who is, of course, the RSC’s erudite and ebullient Artistic Director), a loving circle of colleagues, friends and extended family, and his own lifetime’s worth of acting experience.

Like Sher’s previous volumes, Year of the Mad King is highly readable, full of fascinating Shakespearean insight and detail, and impressively illustrated with the author’s own paintings and sketches.

Year of the Mad King is available from Nick Hern Books, priced £16.99

Heading for Shakespeare’s Globe… Guildhall student Luke Dale, winner of The Actors Centre Alan Bates Award 2015

This year’s Alan Bates Award has been won by Luke Dale, a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The award was presented to Luke by EastEnders star Lindsey Coulson at the central London ceremony on Friday 24 April.

Lindsey Coulson said: “This award is the legacy of Alan Bates’ commitment to prepare young people to enter the profession. The quality of this year’s talent has been really outstanding and it’s so important to have organisations like the Actors Centre in place to nurture the growth of young talent.”

Eastenders star Lindsey Coulson (left) with Luke and Dame Janet Suzman (right).

Eastenders star Lindsey Coulson (left) with Luke and Dame Janet Suzman (right).

Along with the Actors Centre’s varied range of professional workshops and opportunities, Luke’s prize bundle includes headshots, a showreel and voicereel, a bespoke built website and Equity and Spotlight subscriptions. Leading fashion brand Ted Baker will style and dress him from “Ted to Toe”. Luke will also receive a supply of books from publishers Methuen Drama, Oberon Books and Nick Hern Books, and he will be appearing at Shakespeare’s Globe in the Read not Dead programme of staged readings.

The Actors Centre’s Chair Paul Clayton, who will be mentoring Luke Dale over the next year commended the judges’ decision: “He is the most engaging actor and when I saw him I thought ‘You stand out’ – and among six really first-class competitors. He did a fantastic Shakespeare speech, had a lot of energy… And he comes from Yorkshire, which can’t be all bad because so do I!”

Paul Clayton (left) with Luke.

Paul Clayton (left) with Luke.

The Alan Bates Award is the toughest and most unique competition of its kind. Graduating actors nominate themselves before the winner is selected through a rigorous, three-stage audition and interview process which includes a panel of actors and industry judges.

Award winner Luke said: “I feel very privileged, honoured and absolutely elated. I am so thankful to the Actors Centre, and the best thing about winning this year’s Alan Bates Award is I can keep coming back to work with the amazing actors and people.”

Alan Bates Award judge Dame Janet Suzman is one of the few living actors to feature in Great Shakespeare Actors, the new book from Shakespeare authority Professor Stanley Wells.

Last year’s winner Charles Babalola (left) with Luke.

Last year’s winner Charles Babalola (left) with Luke.

“I admire young actors today enormously,” she says. “It is rather humbling as they are all going into a world that is much more difficult than the world that I went into. Somehow it is more transient, more over-crowded, and you have to learn much more in less time.”

Go here to find out more about The Actors Centre and the Alan Bates Award 2015.

Final Reminder! Today, Eminent Shakespeareans Sir Antony Sher and Professor Stanley Wells feature in National Theatre Platforms

Today, Wednesday 6 May, sees two Shakespeare-themed events in London from National Theatre Platforms.

Antony Sher
Dorfman Theatre, Wednesday 6 May, 2.30pm (1 hour) + Book Signing, £4/£3
The distinguished Shakespearean actor talks to Sue MacGregor about Year of the Fat Knight, his warm, witty and entertaining book about his experience of playing Falstaff.

Book tickets for Sir Antony Sher here.

Antony Sher as Falstaff by Kwame Lestrade

Stanley Wells
Dorfman Theatre, Wednesday 6 May, 6pm (45 minutes) + Book Signing, £4/£3
Stanley Wells offers a wonderfully readable actor-centred history of theatrical performance in Great Shakespeare Actors, examining their most notable performances in the key roles. Chaired by Sue MacGregor.

Book tickets for Professor Stanley Wells here
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Stanley Wells by Christoph Mueller

An eclectic programme of talks, discussions and interviews, National Theatre Platforms offer the chance to learn more about the National’s work and the arts in general.

Both Sir Antony Sher and Professor Stanley Wells have been interviewed for the next issue of Shakespeare Magazine, coming soon.