'Antony Sher's insider journal is a brilliant exploded view of a great actor at work – modest and gifted, self-centred and selfless – a genius capable of transporting us backstage' Craig Raine, The Spectator (Books of the Year)
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, Sir John Falstaff, in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2014 production of both parts of Henry IV, directed by Gregory Doran.
Both the production and Sher's Falstaff were acclaimed by critics and audiences – with Sher winning the Critics' Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance – and the shows transferred from Stratford to London, and then to New York, where Charles Isherwood in the New York Times described Sher's Falstaff as 'one of the greatest performances I've ever seen'.
This fascinating book tells us how Sher had initial 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, he paints a uniquely close-up portrait of the RSC at work.
Year of the Fat Knight is a terrific read, rich in humour and with a built-in tension as opening night draws relentlessly nearer. It also stands as a celebration of the craft of character acting. It ranks alongside Year of the King – Sher's seminal account of playing Richard III – as a consummate depiction of the creation of a giant Shakespearean role.
Extra content: Hear Antony Sher read from Year of the Fat Knight, in discussion with Mark Lawson, as part of a Guardian Live podcast recorded on 12 January 2016.
'Antony Sher’s insider journal is a brilliant exploded view of a great actor at work — modest and gifted, self-centred and selfless — a genius capable of transporting us backstage'
‘A fascinating book, whether you love Shakespeare, whether you love theatre, even if you don’t... unfailingly honest... a brilliant portrayal of a character actor’
'A brilliantly full-bodied account that mixes the practicalities of a performance with artistic ambitions. You learn as much about Sher himself as you do about Falstaff... far more instructive about acting than any number of how-to guides'
'A vivid account... Sher has an artist's eye... filled with ecstacy'
'Far from simply a primer on the art of acting... [Sher's] tone is relaxed, intimate, even confidential, open about his personal foibles and relationships... a book about life as well as about acting'
'An excellent account… intimate and conversational in tone, and illuminates both the personal and collective processes of bringing to life a huge character and production'
'One of the most compelling non-fiction books I've read in a long time... chatty, frank, funny and enlightening... anyone wanting to know exactly how a show is created from beginning to end will find it all here... I enjoyed Sher's earlier book, Year of the King, about his journey to create Richard III, but this is even better'
'A warm, generous, incisive read… [its] breadth of detail gives Year of the Fat Knight, like the figure of Sir John himself, a dimension of weight and gravity'
'Fascinating... sprinkled with amusing anecdotes... both a deeply felt love story and a detailed record of how a great actor prepares for a role'
'A joyful outpouring of a man at the top of his game... totally enthralling from start to finish'
'Honest, humourous and enlightening... a great addition to any actor’s reading list'
Antony Sher was born in South Africa and shot to fame as an actor for the Richard III that provided the subject for his acclaimed book, Year of the King. He has worked extensively in theatre, film and television and has published several novels, a book of his paintings and an autobiography, Beside Myself. His plays are published by Nick Hern Books. He was knighted in 2000.