Winner of the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theatre Biography 2011
Drawing on a lifetime of writing about theatre and film, Callow takes us behind the curtain and behind the camera to introduce us to the performers and performances that have shaped him as an actor and as a public persona. They include giants like Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Tommy Cooper, Charles Laughton and Laurence Olivier.
The book reconstructs the highlights of his career, including his breakthrough roles as the foul-mouthed Mozart in Amadeus, and as Reverend Beebe in the film of A Room With a View, at the personal insistence of producer Ismail Merchant. The pieces are interspersed with commentaries on pantomime, nudity, homosexuality, and the many other aspects of a rich and varied life, both on and off the stage.
Read by Simon Callow
©2010 Simon Callow (P)2011 Audible Ltd
How I wanted so badly, being a fan of Simon Callow's acting, for this to be a real memoir, a tale of his life. Which it is, to an extent... interspersed every few minutes by reviews and articles he has written for various publications over the last couple of decades. This made me feel a little cheated. Even his grand style, good writing and lovely accent can't make it better.
The articles completely take away from the story, adding far too many superficial references to various (sometimes obscure) people and plays of whom Callow reviews... and tends to hack the story to "pieces," instead of contributing any real value.
This book would have been so much better and worth reading without these added articles, which made the story feel cheapened, having relied on already-written content, often well over 10 or 15 years old, to lengthen the book. I found myself skipping most of them, desperate to hear the short snippets of actual story between them.
This is a glorious work. I can't even begin to emulate his grasp of the english language or am I able to wax lyrical enough at the pleasure of listening to his voice, the instrument mentioned in the title. So many actors that I have heard about brought into focus with his many pieces of writing. I was a little hesitant to start listening to begin with as I was drawn to it because of a fondness for his'"Chance'' character, and this work has such depth I now find it hard to stop.
I like to weed and read at the same time.
Simon Callow gives us a glimpse of his life enriched by readings of previously published erudite,funny,detailed and thoughtful pieces ranging from Newspaper reviews to eulogies for colleagues both living and dead. His voice is quite wonderful, his sense of humor delicious and his compassion endless. He is self deprecating and discrete about his personal life. There are extremely interesting ( to me) essays about acting and directing techniques, Stanislavski, Wells, Hall. Gielguid, Schofield and Richardson to mention just a few. This book has sent me off on a hunt for many of the books he cites and quotes from. To me this is is what a good autobiography should do. I listened to it three times and like all favorite books,can't bear to finish it and so the last half hour remains unheard.
'My Life in Pieces' is not your typical autobiography. It's a compilation of "pieces" written by the actor Simon Callow for various newspapers, books, programs, memorials, etc. Most of them, of course, revolve around Callow's work in the theatre and on film. If his name isn't familiar to you, his face probably will be, from movies if not the stage: he played the Rev. Mr. Beebe in 'A Room with a View,' Schikaneder/Papageno in 'Amadeus,' and Gareth, the gay man who dies of a heart attack at one of the receptions in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.' He's also well-known for his one-man show on Charles Dickens, which was televised in the UK and is available on DVD here in the US. Callow presents insightful essays on many of the great actors of the twentieth century, most of whom he has acted with, including Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Alec Guinness, Paul Scofield, Orson Welles, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Redgrave, Ian McKellan, and more. In addition, he writes about several directors and playwrights, classic 'schools' and 'methods' of acting, and his own views on the status of acting on today's stage.
Callow is a wonderful writer and a great storyteller. He can be funny, charming, reverent, and insightful--sometimes in the same piece. The stories he tells of working in the theatre are delightful, but they also give one an appreciation for the true art of acting. I listened to this book on audio, and with Callow himself as reader, it was a wonderful experience. I've always thought he was a fine, underrated character actor, and my admiration of his work has grown after reading/listening to these 'pieces.'
Recommended for anyone interested theatre arts.
"An ideal book to be heard"
This is one of the best audio books I've listened to. I know that Simon Callow is a fine actor but didn’t realize he is also an accomplished writer and scholar of theatre and film. This book is based on the huge number of articles and reviews that he has written over the past 30 or so years. It's an entertaining and informative potpourri of autobiography, biography of actors past and present, mixed with reviews of plays and films and how they are made. The ups and downs of his life as an actor, director and writer are presented with endearing frankness and lack of self-importance despite his evident achievements.
This is one of those books that is enhanced by being read by someone as versatile as the author. He is a wonderful mimic and brings the voices of people as diverse as Frankie Howerd and Lawrence Olivier alive. The writing style is fluid and suits being heard. It’s a perfect blend of information about what it is like to be an actor, plenty about plays and films and how they are created plus backstage gossip, some of it wonderfully scurrilous. I’ve suspected that if there’s a gay gene it’s strongly linked to exceptional artistic talent and after hearing this book I’m even more convinced!
If you’ve any interest in theatre, film and what it’s like to be an actor I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book. I’m left feeling grateful that actors are willing to put up with an uncertain and rootless life that is often badly paid and where they are exposed to public criticism.
"Memorable and compelling."
I have always admired Simon Callow as an actor but had no idea, until I read this book, of the sheer power of his erudition. It would be hard to say whether he excels more as a writer or an actor. The marvellous thing about this particular autobiography is how, through using his own previous articles in newspapers, he is able to add layer upon layer to other actors who have been much revered over the years. It doesn't hurt either that he is a first class mimic and brings so many of the characters under discussion to life. The book is very long and impossible to listen to in one hit, as it were. However, I found as I finished it, that I was turning to part 1 and starting again!. To anyone interested in theatre and the art of acting, this biography is a complete joy.
"A wonderful read"
Having been a fan and avid attendee of theatre for many years I bought this title on impulse, purely because it promised to be a very different take on the world of the actor and, somewhat selfishly, I thought it would help while away my current daily commute into The City. I was not disappointed; this book is an amazing find, grabbing the listener from the off and introducing them to an array of famous lives such as Olivier, Geilgud, Richardson, Edith Evans, Nigel Hawthorn, John Schofield, and looks at the effect they had on the world of theatre and how it impacted them.
The success of this title is in no small way down to Simon Callow whose infectious love of the theatre and the people in it is clear from the very start. Weaving his story broadly around his own life and career as an actor, Callow touches on aspects of the world of theatre that few audience-goers consider, and he gives a fascinating insight into the intrigues and alliances that are formed during a production. And yet he manages to maintain direct contact with you, the listener, talking as if you're sitting at a bar, passing the day.
My morning commute just isn't the same without Mr Callow and his tales, this is a must-have title.
"All human life is here"
Simon Callow's voice is warm, funny, wise and self deprecating - but the book is intensely "serious" in the sense that its subject really is the whole of human life. No wonder the book is so long. Thinking about what it means to be human is something many of us lazily or fearfully prefer to avoid. More and more, it seems, we use consumerism and desire for quick fix entertainment to hide the realities we'd rather not think about - since to do so requires keeping still and facing up to things. It is easy to sleepwalk through life. Listening to Simon Callow's voice reminds one of how far theatre at its best can wake us up.
And he is a wonderful mimic, parading throughout the book the famous and the extraordinary characters he has delighted in so that we meet them too.
Simon Calllow gives us the background as well as the foreground - not just about putting on plays but about the creative urge itself. Much of the book recounts articles he has written in ephemeral journals or newspapers and so gives them, thank goodness, a permanence.
He has always delighted me with his warmth and with the fact that his eloquence and intellect are always evident - never for show but to enlighten. I shall now search for anything on Audible he has narrated, but especially his own writing.
Yes...but it is long enough to last for several days. When I found, just now, that I had only 20 minutes of the last part left, it was a real sorrow. I know that this is one of those audio books that I'll listen to again, probably many times, and will always hear and understand something new.
It has taught me a great deal that I didn't know about plays, players, writers and actors, and also a great deal about the plays, writers and actors I thought I did know about- actually it has taught me a lot about people. There are parts - many - that made me laugh aloud, parts that are moving and parts that open a window into experiences I knew nothing about. I only write reviews for books I love. This is one.
"Loved every minute"
Callow's narration was brilliant. The insights into theatre and the personalities he connected with was most entertaining.
I thought I liked Simon Callow and that it would be interesting to read. I could not get into this though. I found him to be irritating and dry.
I will give it another try as I am sure the content my be good if I can get over Mr Callow.
"All about men"
I do love Simon Callow's work and intelligence but this book is not a great one to listen to. He reads his published articles which are strung along the string of his life story but reveal far too little about himself as a person. Rather, the book is essentially about other people or their books or plays. And the people, books and plays he writes about are all men. In this book Simon rarely writes about women and those he does in passing mention are skimmed over or simply just nodded to. They are not certainly considered among all the great people of the stage and screen in this book, at least, and frankly, after a while, I couldn't have cared less...
"Engaging gems from a master of his subject."
Yes, but it has inspired me to obtain the printed copy for browsing.
Callow is a fluent enthusiast of his subject, and his 'pieces' range from the amusing anecdote to the seriously intellectual review.
Callow is Callow is Callow, long may he be so.
Some of the pieces are naughtily funny but mercifully stop short of the over-prurient.
One would love to have friends like Callow ...if only one could keep up!
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