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A few weeks ago Radio 4 serialised Sir Antony Sher reading extracts of Year of the Fat Knight – The Falstaff Diaries, published earlier this year. This is Antony Sher’s diary account of how he came to play Falstaff for the RSC: how he overcame initial doubts to accept the role, then how he prepared for it, and finally its opening in Stratford. It’s a most interesting account of how a leading actor sets about taking on such a part.

It’s notable too for his enormous appreciation of Shakespeare’s greatness. The book is illustrated by several of the author’s own drawings and paintings.

We see how he struggles to see how to play Falstaff. We read how he sets about learning his lines (not easy, but sheer hard work by the sound if it), and the slog, fun and, yes, drama of rehearsals. We share in the tension and exhilaration of the first night.

Passages that I particularly enjoyed relate his experiences filming The Hobbit in New Zealand; his emotions during a private tour of Westminster Abbey; the discovery among a pile of old rehearsal props of a crutch he had used many years before when playing Richard III; a description of what it’s like backstage during a performance at Stratford; some reflections on why some of the great actors of the past haven’t taken on the role of Falstaff; and the fireworks marking Shakespeare’s 450th birthday at Stratford, during the plays’ run.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into the world of top-quality theatre. Published by Nick Hern Books Ltd  ISBN 978 1 84842 461 2 RRP £16-99