Tasteful memoir from a repertory actor with the National Theatre Company in Great Britain who shared the stage with such luminaries as Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Alec Guinness and Peter O'Toole.
Of Anglo-Irish origin, Knapp's writing is characteristically modest and understated, an admirable style most American celebrity memoirists would do well to follow. Within these pages, he attempts to capture the magic of his contemporary's performances, a tall order indeed, given that a dramatic performance, like a painting, cannot be effectively conveyed through words. Nevertheless, the book provides some notable insights into an actor’s life on the British stage. While director of the government-funded National Theatre, Olivier arranged for a new compensation system that paid a negotiated weekly salary to ensemble actors (whether they acted or not), plus a negotiated fee for each performance–-a system that didn't last long. Knapp also notes Franco Zeffirelli's surprise that no "giants and dwarfs...skinnies and fatsos" were to be found in the Company, Olivier dryly observing that British actors were expected to get into character through makeup and costume. The story, however, sags a bit at the beginning and the end. Ornitz's preface is soaked with Dickensian pathos: "There were times in the Knapp household when money was short and luxury consisted of an enamel bowl of hot meat faggots and pease pudding from the butcher's shop"; the later chapters, describing Knapp's travels through Japan–-notable for his encounters with Kabuki and Noh-–and eventual residence in Hawaii as a director and drama teacher, lack the sparkle of the anecdotes from his youth.
Classically trained British actors of Knapp's pedigree are a vanishing breed, and he illuminates the rigors and the satisfactions of their professional lives.