The Rules of Acting
Michael Simkins has turned himself from a popular actor into an equally popular journalist and author, while never slowing down at the day job.
This is quite an achievement and, even better, his writing about theatre, cricket and travel is a dream, witty, insightful and always entertaining.
The Rules of Acting is not quite what it seems. Rather than a dull theatrical manual, this is as much a tangential trot through the career of an actor who has had a busy and prolific career as it is a set of instructions for youngsters considering life on the stage. That is not to diminish some very sound advice that forms the backbone of what many will undoubtedly find an extremely helpful introduction to the art.
As one has come to expect from this writer, the book comprises short pieces rather like newspaper or magazine articles that together build to a satisfying whole.
The structure is built on what the author regards as the five ages of an actor, although these are hardly what one might expect, starting with "Who is Michael Simkins?" and ending with "Who was Michael Simkins?".
Along the way, he covers every aspect of the business from his own perspective, starting with a strong suggestion that readers choose a different career, thus avoiding much pain. He also delineates many of the downsides as one goes through the book.
For those that keep reading, there are thoughts on training, acting on stages, large, medium and small including a homage to the good old weekly rep. As a star of Mamma Mia and Chicago (five times), Simkins is also well placed to talk about musicals.
The same applies to TV, film, adverts and voice-over plus pretty much any other form of acting that one could imagine, including corporate role-plays. The only section that relies on hearsay is his investigation into superstardom in Hollywood, though with friends in the right places this also rings true.
By the end, it is inevitable that everyone will have enjoyed reading what is far from a typical manual and all the better for it. In addition, readers will discover vast tracts of really practical knowledge about how to succeed in an industry where, as the author regretfully points out, 92% of its practitioners are "resting" at any time. That will be the real reason for those serious about getting into acting to purchase a copy while many others will do so because it is such a good read.
It is all very well for a theatre critic to heap praise on The Rules of Acting. However, even this humble writer is willing to stand back and accept that when the book's cover is adorned with quotes from Helen Mirren, Nicholas Hytner, Tim Rice and Stephen Fry, a Dame of the realm, two Knights and perhaps one in waiting, everybody may well have bought a copy before they even get to this review.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher