Blakemore, the director of stage hits Democracy, Arturo Ui and City of Angels, proves an able, literate raconteur in this eloquent, engaging memoir.
Actually, Blakemore touches only briefly on his career as a director, when, at the end of this story, he leaps to stardom with A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, written by his lifelong friend Peter Nichols. For most of the memoir, we follow Blakemore through his early years in 1950s England, where he labored through the exhausting grind of an actor in weekly repertory on creaky stages in grim industrial cities like Newcastle, Glasgow and Bristol. Still, Blakemore never regrets his decision to leave sun-drenched Australia in pursuit of a life in the theater. Though confined largely to secondary roles (Snout the Tinker, Casca, Sir Toby Belch), Blakemore nevertheless carves out a respectable, if less than lucrative, acting career. Along the way, he treats us to vivid portraits of stars like Robert Morley (an early benefactor), Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton. His travels cause him also to cross the paths of more celebrated young theatrical contemporaries such as Albert Finney, Peter O’Toole and John Osborne. He enjoys a brief affair with the then-unknown Vanessa Redgrave; is inspired by legendary director Tyrone Guthrie; and even pauses to help less-than-diligent pop star Dave Clark master his lines for a feature film. Blakemore is candid about his native Australia, his stand-offish father and several director colleagues. Nor does he omit his own flaws, especially chronic infidelity to his loyal wife Shirley. Throughout, he treats us to an intelligent, well-observed narrative that illuminates both the theater world and the changing England outside it. True, there are some needless detours—the history of the construction of the Sydney Opera House, for example. But for the most part, the tale is evocative and memorable, part backstage theater tour, part cultural essay, part confessional.
An actor’s story that one needn’t be a theater fan to savor and enjoy.