Book review: Advice from the Players by Laura Barnett  

Published by Nick Hern Books

Review by Peter King

The bright lights of the stage may seem just a pipe dream to hopefuls champing at the thespian bit. Help, however, is at hand in the shape of a cornucopia of actors’ apophthegms compiled by Laura Barnett, in which a cast of theatrical A-listers shares tips forged in the hard school of ego-bruising knocks.

The author can write, as she shows from curtain up, but she steps into the wings to make way for a galaxy of stellar voices which are all allowed their equal, disarmingly down-to-earth say.

In the chapter, ‘Auditions: a guide to success’, big names warn of the dangers of entertaining puffed up ideas about your place in the food chain. Simon Russell Beale points out the pitfalls of parading your own opinions and recalls an early moment when he found that the road to treading the boards can involve learning when to keep shtoom.

He writes: ‘For my first audition for the RSC, which I didn’t get, I remember walking out and saying to the assistant director, ‘How did that go?’ And he said, ‘Just don’t talk too much.’ And Imogen Stubbs chips in: ‘They will assume most people going in to the audition can act. What they really want to know is if you can take direction.’

Elsewhere Samuel West counsels against contacting directors of Hamlet with the line, “I think I’m the prince you’re looking for,” and Paul McGann says that you may well have been the best actor at your school – and the same will hold for the whole company of aspirants you are vying with. Every so often the advice is spelt out in larger print, like flashing warning signals, but the falling star flickering at the edge of every page hints that there may be light at the end of the theatrical tunnel – and that the dramatic dream could be no more than a hop and a skip away.