Wednesday 29 December 2010

The Thespian's Art

'Acting is the supreme test of physical and mental courage. It is like climbing Everest single-handed in the dark. It is like painting the Sistine Chapel with a shark on your back. It is like being asleep on a helter-skelter with no pyjamas and a hangover...'
Thus the 'absolutely bloody passionate' actor Nicholas Craig in his searingly honest account of the thespian's art, I, An Actor. If you haven't come across this brilliant spoof, concocted by performer Nigel Planer and writer Christopher Douglas (who went on to create that supremely seedy hack Ed Reardon), then seek it out. It's the funniest, most acute anatomy of luvvy absurdity I know of. Even the pictures are funny - and the reviews on the back: 'Disloyal, vindictive, bitter, scandalous and insulting' - Sheridan Morley, The Times. 'He could almost be doing a send-up of a theatrical biography' - Yorkshire Post. 'Ha bloody ha' - The Stage. Douglas/Planer nail the more tiresome mannerisms of a certain kind of actor with deadly accuracy - the faux modesty alternating with preposterously inflated claims for his art/craft, the faux blokiness alternating with fey and winsome 'jokes' (identifiable by the exclamation marks), the bonhomie and hissy-fit touchiness, the fawning ingratiation and vicious bitchiness, the obsessive elaboration of every detail of the career accompanied by shrugging protestations that none of it amounts to anything, the toe-curling anecdotes and slices of theatrical lore, all jostle together in an excruciatingly camp confection that out-Callows Callow and out-Shers Sher.
Planer developed 'Nicholas Craig' on TV in The Naked Actor and a series of masterclasses for aspiring young actors (including one for TV weather forecast presenters) - and he popped up again last year on BBC4, with another masterclass on How To Be Old. The essence of Craig, though, is in the book.


  1. Well, be that as it may Nige, any aspiring young actor wishing a career needs the following armour.....Above all else,, the ability to overcome nepotism, the BBCs two planker audition personnel, agents with more attitude than Concorde's conk, producers who demand that their second cousins take the lead part, working without renumeration.

    The industry should be referred to the European court of human rights.

  2. Industry? Come Malty - it is an art and a vocation, perhaps the most noble to which a human can aspire...

  3. Heh heh. Yes I've got that book somewhere (probably in the attic) and remember being v tickled by it.

    I also remember that masterclass for weather presenters. It was all in the personal details and ending with a flourish... "So if you're going out today, remember to take a macintosh...and a pair of flippers".

  4. Yes, and the careful use of the word 'old', as in 'that old rain'. And arbitrary... pauses of course.