Year of the Fat Knight by Antony Sher – The Falstaff Diaries

Year of the Fat Knight
In A Nutshell
Year of the Fat Knight is Antony Sher’s account -splendidly supplemented by his own paintings and sketches – of researching, rehearsing and performing one of Shakespeare’s best-known and most popular characters.
He tells us how he had doubts about playing the part at all, how he sought to reconcile Falstaff’s obesity, drunkenness, cowardice and charm, how he wrestled with the fat suit needed to bulk him up, and how he explored the complexities and contradictions of this comic yet often dangerous personality.
On the way, Sher paints a uniquely close-up portrait of the RSC at work.

Actor Hub Review

“When you’re young, it seems so straightforward: you learn the lines and that’s that. But when you’re older, you’re aware of a series of tests and obstacles ahead, each of which will put pressure on you, and the lines will often be the first casualty. So…”
Back when I was studying for my GCSE’s I read Antony Sher’s Year of the King and it changed my life. Sher’s account of his journey towards playing Richard III for the RSC showed me that I could take acting seriously as a career and that as a young character actor I could reinterpret roles and make them my own.
Twenty five years later I was delighted to see a new diary from Sher – Year of the Fat Knight – this time exploring a year’s journey towards playing Falstaff in the both parts of Henry IV – this performance was acclaimed by critics and audiences and earned Sher the Critics Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance.
An actors journey to a role is not just about learning lines and where to stand and Sher takes us through the uncertainty, the frustration, the laughter, the fear, the fittings, the rehearsals, the highs and the lows – every step of the process is explored in this honest, humourous and enlightening book of the rollercoaster ride Antony Sher has tackling and embracing ‘the Fat Knight’
I am ashamed to say that I did not know the Henry plays before reading this book, I also knew very little about Falstaff but you actually don’t need to know anything about the play or the part to enjoy Sher’s account of his process. As he explores the character and past performances you begin to get an insight into this magnificent and complicated role. Yes, there were parts of the play which it would have helped to be familiar with to fully appreciate the story of the mounting of this production – but that did not detract from my enjoyment of Sher’s process.
As an actor myself it is refreshing to read that even the greats suffer from anxiety and worry about their suitability for a role and their performance. Antony Sher is totally honest and upfront about how he feels at every step through his process towards opening night. We are given a ‘backstage’ view on the rehearsal process in London and watch from the wings as the shows gets to previews in Startford Upon Avon. The book is beautifully illustrated throughout with Sher’s wonderful sketches, paintings and artwork.
This is the type of book which makes me long to act on stage again, as a screen actor it made me jealous of that luxurious process which a stage actor can indulge in as they prepare for their performance. I longed for the camaraderie of being a member of a company all working towards a common goal whilst being on one’s own personal journey.
I am pleased to say I have found a book which I know I will revisit time and time again, I for one am hoping that we get a similar diary for Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as I would love to explore that role with Sher.
This book is a great addition to any actor’s reading list, and if you are not an actor but are looking for a fascinating insight into how an actor researches, rehearses and performs then look no further.

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