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the Complete Review
the complete review - diary

Acting Up

David Hare

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To purchase Acting Up

Title: Acting Up
Author: David Hare
Genre: Diary
Written: 1999
Length: 277 pages
Availability: Acting Up - US
Acting Up - UK
Acting Up - Canada
  • A diary kept while Hare performed his one-man piece about Israel and Palestine, Via Dolorosa (see our review), in England and New York.

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Our Assessment:

B- : lots of names, lots of coughs, a bit short on substance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 20/2/2000 Bevya Rosten
TLS A 10/3/2000 Patrick Carnegy

  From the Reviews:
  • "Readers also straddle the line between responding to the book as a fascinating account about learning to act and as an exploration of provocative ideas, not always sure about how one affected the other." - Bevya Rosten, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Few books give such a good account of what it means to be an actor, beginning with the painful process of working with his director, Stephen Daldry, on how to pace and shape the delivery of the marathon monologue, how to represent both David Hare and the voices of all who had spoken to him. (...) (D)espite occasional priggishness (...) a compelling and provocative book." - Patrick Carnegy, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

      Acting Up is the diary David Hare kept during the runs of his one-man play, Via Dolorosa (see our review). Taking to the stage for the first time Hare performed the piece himself, first in England and then in New York, recording the unusual experience of treading the boards.
      The play itself is somewhat contentious: in it Hare writes about his encounter with contemporary Israel and Palestine, recreating the dozens of experiences he had and people he met on a visit there. An ambitious undertaking for any actor, and a demanding role.
      The diary he kept (or created) is an unusual book. It is clearly written for an audience, not for himself. Posing and performing even in how he presents himself it seems carefully constructed, with Hare never really opening up. He is brought to tears a few times, but even these scenes play unconvincingly, too obviously plotted and written.
      Still, there are a lot of fun titbits here, especially for anyone involved in the theatre world. Mr. Hare is a major figure in the theatre world (and he had a blockbuster year 1998-99, with four plays opening in New York). He knows everyone and everyone knows him and there is name-dropping galore. From Dame Judi Dench (performing down the street in New York in another of his plays, Amy's View) to Nicole Kidman (starring in yet another Hare play) to Hollywood superstars to Dr. Ruth to the Rabin widow he seems to meet everybody who is anybody. He lunches with Arthur Miller and gets prime seats at the Lewis-Holyfield fight in Madison Square Garden. (Having seen no concerts and gone to no museums during his entire New York stay he sums up his accomplishments during his stay as: "Bent boxing matches endured - 1".) He can even afford to gloss over the various award shows he attends (and where, except at the Tonys, he rakes in the awards).
      There is a fair amount about putting on a show in this diary, and about the various performances themselves, the problem here being that putting on a show is generally (and certainly here, with only one actor to coddle) a dreary and boring business. The performances themselves are also fairly repetitive, leaving Hare trying to liven up his account by recounting who saw him on what day and how that affected his performance. He also goes on at great length about uncouth members of the audience that cough during performances. While we sympathize with Hare -- coughing in a theatre (or concert) is unacceptably rude, anyone who does cough during a performance should be ejected from the theatre, chastised, and, preferably, flogged -- it nevertheless is not a very interesting subject to read a great deal about.
      Hare writes well, and there are quite a few nice scenes and theatrical anecdotes. He gets some fun comments in, but the mix and tone are often just a bit off key:

(...) I found myself not weeping discreetly at the beauty of Judi Dench's performance, but actually unable to control my great, gasping sobs. I had to run down to the rest room at the end to recover, in a state of complete Gwyneth Paltrow.
      (The reference being to Ms. Paltrow's loss of control every time she receives an award, as Hare elsewhere has occasion to comment on.)
      Divided into two sections, one a diary of the British run, the other of the New York one, it makes for an interesting insider's view of the acting world. There is the usual theatre gushing (we love Dame Judi's work too, but there is a bit too much gush here), as well as the fun sniping (former theatre critic Frank Rich and his newspaper, The New York Times, are particularly nicely manhandled). Current affairs, still strikingly close (the deaths of Kubrick and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, the shootings in Littleton) are also touched upon, and Hare's thoughts are useful in revisiting and reconsidering these events. The cultural differences between America and England (especially, but not exclusively, regarding the theatre) are played up, and it is interesting to see Hare's take on the US (influenced, perhaps, by such amusing misunderstandings as the one that gives him the title of the American section of the diary: My Wife is George Bush). It is acting, however, that takes center stage -- for better and worse.
      Theatre professionals (and amateurs), the star-struck, and friends of Hare (a large group, apparently) should enjoy the book. For others it is a quick, cough-filled, name-dropping sliver of history, presumably of lesser interest.

      Note: It is not necessary to be familiar with Via Dolorosa, or to have seen (or read) it in order to enjoy the book. A fair amount of space in the diary deals with reactions to the play, and Hare's attitude to certain scenes, but generally he expresses the concerns and issues in a manner making them clear even to those who do not know the play. Nevertheless, familiarity with the play certainly makes this book more interesting and useful and is recommended.

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Acting Up: reviews: Via Dolorosa: David Hare: Other books by David Hare under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Simon Gray's account of the production and destruction of his play, Cell Mates, in Fat Chance
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       English playwright David Hare was born in 1947. He has written many plays and screenplays and won numerous prizes.

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© 1999-2008 the complete review

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