Thursday, 22 October 1998

John Gielgud: An Actor and His Time (1979)

An Actor and His Time coverEdition: Penguin, 1981
Review number: 143

John Gielgud's memoir covers roughly the first sixty years of his life, and is adapted from a series of radio talks. A large part of the book is taken up with Gielgud's impressions of the other actors he met during this period, beginning with those from his grandmother's famous family, the Terrys. (A major part of the adaptation to book form is the addition of comprehensive notes detailing the careers of the actors mentioned; very useful if you don't know a great deal about the famous actors of the early part of the twentieth century.)

Gielgud is unfailingly modest about his own talents and generous about those of others. As a writer, he is better at - and clearly more interested in - recounting amusing anecdotes than in detailed analysis of acting technique. This is particularly the case in dealing with his own career; he is not introspective in the least. This is not a real problem; if you want insight into how an actor carrys out his craft, this is not the book you would choose to read. The anecdotes are delightful and well-told, and it is valuable to have a record of the memories of one who through the length of his career and his family connections provides a link with a long bygone age of the British theatre.

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