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A Piece of Work

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9780316725323

Price: £25

ON SALE: 5th September 2024

Genre: Biography & True Stories / Biography: General

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Simon Russell Beale is one of Britain’s most recognisable and well-loved actors. He has played many roles on stage, film, television and radio – ranging from Winston Churchill to Stalin, George Smiley to King Arthur. But ever since his appearance at school as a glamorous Desdemona, complete with false eyelashes that rendered him half-blind, he has been captivated by Shakespeare.

In A Piece of Work, Russell Beale tries to get under the skin of the playwright and find out what interested him. Was Shakespeare an instinctive ‘conservative’ or, rather, gently subversive? How collaborative was he? Did he add a line to Hamlet in order to accommodate his ageing and increasingly chubby principal actor, Richard Burbage? Did he suffer from insomnia and experience sexual jealousy?

Russell Beale describes what it is to approach and live with some of Shakespeare’s most famous characters. Some of the actor’s inspiration comes from surprising sources. Watching Coronation Street gave him an idea for how Richard III might react on hearing of the death of the two Princes in the Tower; a visit to elderly patients in a local hospital gave him insights into King Lear’s descent into madness; and the memory of childhood family holidays led him to a spectacular plunge into an ornamental pool in Much Ado About Nothing.

Funny and touching about his family, Russell Beale also writes fascinatingly about some of the supremely creative people he counts as his friends – including Sam Mendes, Nick Hytner, Stephen Sondheim and Lauren Bacall.

A Piece of Work is a brilliant account of an actor’s life and work – and his relationship with our foremost dramatist.