Esther Freud (Hideous Kinky) has an arts and sciences pedigree: she is the daughter of Lucian Freud and great-granddaughter of Sigmund. In this novel, she draws on her early experience of studying to be an actress.
It is the first day at Drama Arts, and the first-year class is filled with trepidation, hope, misgivings and holy zeal for the acting profession. The teacher, Patrick Bowery, tells the students, "We want to do everything we can here to rid you of the desire to perform. We want you to learn to BE. To exist in your own world on the stage." Those words resonate with each of the class members during their time at Drama Arts and for the next 14 years covered by the book.
Nell, a doughy girl who believes she is best suited to be cast as a maid, is the most likable and normal and, as it turns out, she has real talent, even though she is asked to leave after the second year. Charlie is the most beautiful girl, tall, glamorous, "with toffee-coloured skin and peroxide hair cropped short against her head." She fights a constant battle to keep that skin perfect--so much so that she exaggerates the slightest blemish, rendering her unwilling to leave the house.
Dan is ambition personified. He falls for Jemma on the first day; she is asked to leave, but they stay connected, eventually marry and have four kids--about three more than Dan ever wanted. His goal is to play Hamlet, and, at book's end, it looks like it just might happen.
Each of the actors suffers the agony of the failed audition, waiting for the agent to call, not getting a gig, living from hand to mouth, working pizza jobs, temping--anything to allow them to keep chasing the golden chimera of success in the theater or on film.
Nell wonders if there is any such thing as the "lucky break," and then, finally, she gets one. At the benefit opening for her film, she is in a receiving line awaiting Prince Charles and Camilla, having been told how to act and how to speak to them. Esther Freud knows all about this business; her writing is filled with insight, humor and an insider's view. On the night of the opening, Nell's producers present her with a "luxuriantly thick, white towelling dressing gown every hotel begs you not to steal." Nell reflects: "How odd, she thought, when I could finally afford to buy it, and she started to see how much easier it was to stay rich once you'd begun." --Valerie Ryan
Shelf Talker: Drama Arts, a London acting school, is the setting for the beginning of the stories of a cohort of actors.