My Life in Pieces: An Alternative Autobiography

My Life in Pieces: An Alternative Autobiography

Simon Callow

Language: English

Pages: 449


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

An alternative autobiography of the well-loved actor and man of the theatre.

In My Life in Pieces Simon Callow retraces his life through the multifarious performers, writers, productions and events which have left their indelible mark on him.

The story begins with Peter Pan – his first ever visit to the theatre – before transporting us to southern Africa and South London, where Callow spent much of his childhood. Later, he charms his way into a job at the National Theatre box office courtesy of his hero, Laurence Olivier – and thus consummated a lifetime’s love affair with theatre.

Alongside Olivier, we encounter Paul Scofield, Michael Gambon, Alan Bennett and Richard Eyre, all of whom Callow has worked with, as well as John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness, David Hare, Simon Gray and many more.

He writes too about figures he did not meet but who greatly influenced his life and work, figures such as Stanislavsky, Nureyev and Cocteau, as well as Charles Laughton and Orson Welles. And he even makes room for not-quite- legit performers like Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howard – and Mrs Shufflewick.

The result is a passionate, instructive and beguiling book which, in tracing Simon Callow’s own ‘sentimental education’, leaves us enriched by his generosity and wisdom.

'an engaging passionate book which will augment Callow's growing status as a national treasure.' Guardian

'...not simply a terrific actor who happens to write. You could as well call him a terrific writer who happens to act' The Times

'essential... a gift for transforming personal experience into blazingly intelligent, objective, critical appreciation' Observer

'first rate... the best writer-actor we have' David Hare

'Simon Callow combines zest, originality and passion and has elegantly turned his views and life in the theatre into an astonishing memoir' Richard Eyre

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scene in The Gold Rush where Chaplin eats his boot. She had no particular mimetic gifts, but somehow she managed to suggest the incongruous delicacy with which the little tramp addresses his task. When I finally saw the film, it was remarkable how much of it she had been able to convey, which I take to be a great tribute to him: it had made such an extraordinary impact on her. His absolute mastery of his own physical instrument is phenomenal, his expressiveness unparalleled. When, as a very young

much else about Welles, awe-inspiring, baffling and hilarious by turns. After my near débâcle with the Laughton biography, I went about my work with due diligence. I had been preparing for months, made all the contacts I needed, and secured appointments with all the relevant archives, including the great Lilly Library at Bloomington, Indiana. During the time of Shirley Valentine on Broadway, I went round all Welles’s old theatrical associates – actors, designers, stage managers, secretaries,

a famously witty sleeve adorned with a cartoon in which a snowy-bearded George Bernard Shaw is shown manipulating Professor Higgins, who is himself manipulating Eliza Doolittle. We played it over and over, not just because it was all the rage, and because it was tuneful and witty, but because it was so perfectly and completely British. For a little boy from Streatham who felt himself to be alarmingly adrift in an incomprehensibly strange and different land, it was immeasurably comforting to

dazzling smiles, and it occurred to me that it must be like the Kathakali drama with its gods and demons, desperate lovers and pesky old parents. Or perhaps just Bollywood. Whatever else it is, it’s like nothing else in the theatre. It is the last remnant of the Commedia dell’Arte, the final refuge of the music hall, the ultimate flourish of burlesque. It depends on strong, clear plots, larger-than-life characters, surreal verbal comedy. It can allude to television, but it cannot be of it. It is

succession, a servant, a dandy, a French organist, a knight (Sir Shiveraine Scrivener), Monsieur Zephyr, a stout Welshman (ap Llewellyn-ap Lloyd), a skinny snooker player (Mark Moomin), and, finally, Moomin’s wife Amelrose. It could so easily have been a generalised blur of stereotypes, but the quality his contemporaries above all admired in Mathews was his verisimilitude. He departed entirely from the set types of comedy, thereby, according to E. B. Watson, introducing ‘what later would have

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