by Antony Sher
Year of the Fat Knight is Antony Sher's account – splendidly supplemented by his own paintings and sketches – of researching, rehearsing and performing one of Shakespeare's best-known and most popular characters, Sir John Falstaff, in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2014 production of both parts of Henry IV, directed by Gregory Doran.
Both the production and Sher's Falstaff were acclaimed by critics and audiences – with Sher winning the Critics' Circle Award for Best Shakespearean Performance – and the shows transferred from Stratford to London, and then to New York, where Charles Isherwood in the New York Times described Sher's Falstaff as 'one of the greatest performances I've ever seen'.
This fascinating book tells us how Sher had initial doubts about playing the part at all, how he sought to reconcile Falstaff's obesity, drunkenness, cowardice and charm, how he wrestled with the fat suit needed to bulk him up, and how he explored the complexities and contradictions of this comic yet often dangerous personality. On the way, he paints a uniquely close-up portrait of the RSC at work.
Year of the Fat Knight is a terrific read, rich in humour and with a built-in tension as opening night draws relentlessly nearer. It also stands as a celebration of the craft of character acting. It ranks alongside Year of the King – Sher's seminal account of playing Richard III – as a consummate depiction of the creation of a giant Shakespearean role.