Putting the Rabbit in the Hat: My Autobiography by Brian Cox
I read this fascinating book after Christmas, but it didn’t fit in with my Nordic reviewing in January, so I’m returning to it now.
Cox is one of my favourite actors, I’ve been lucky enough to see him on stage quite a few times in a mix of Shakespeare and modern plays. For the RSC: at Stratford in 1987 as Petruchio in the Taming of the Shrew with Fiona Shaw as Katherina, directed by Jonathan Miller; and in Doug Lucie’s 1988 play Fashion with Alun Armstrong at the Barbican Pit . In the West End in Frankie and Johnny by Terence McNally in 1988 with Juliet Walters – a two-hander, slightly dodgy US accent. Lastly, as Buckingham with Ian McKellen as Richard III at the National in 1990 – brilliant production. I wish I’d seen him in Titus Andronicus around that time – it was meant to have them fainting in the aisles with all the blood!
But back to his memoir. It broadly takes us through his career chronologically, but with digressions – more on them below. It was great to celebrate his career, all those stage appearances, the many films including Manhunter where he was the first Hannibal Lecktor, and also telly – notably his current huge hit Succession (which I can’t see, no longer having Sky 🙁 ). He’s really fun talking about all the roles he didn’t get – for instance Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter – “Brendan [Gleeson] was more in fashion than I was at that point.” The one time he was fired was as Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – he’d struggled to find a voice for the lion before any models were made. The role went to Liam Neeson instead.
However, it’s the digressions that are the interesting part, for Cox is opinionated and has definite views about many things. He’s confessional – he acknowledges that while adoring his kids, he’s not been good at the fathering of them. He’s political – he’s a signed up Scottish nationalist these days. But best of all he’s gossipy and has opinions about his fellow actors, notably Sir Ian McKellen. He’s worked with him several times, they got on well, and Cox is very appreciative of McKellen’s ambassadorship for the theatre world. However…
…there are many, many great things about Sir Ian McKellen. It’s just that when it comes to acting he and I are of different worlds, different tastes, different traditions. He is a master of what I’d call ‘front-foot’ acting. It’s very effective and offers great clarity for the audience, gives them lots of bang for their buck. But, for me at least, it doesn’t quite fulfil what I believe is one of the key functions of acting. It offers no expiation.
He goes on to explain about ‘expiation’, about how the actor and the audience go on a journey together, about a joint discovery of the truth in situation, character and performance. This is a theme and word he returns to time and again!
I so enjoyed this slightly rambling memoir. I love reading about actor’s lives and views on the subject. Cox comes across exactly as you’d expect him to, there’s an energy about him which is slightly challenging, yet very refreshing, he’s capable of not taking himself too seriously but dedicated to his craft; his gossipy side was unexpected and fun.
Source: Own copy. Quercus hardback, 374 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
Prince Caspian by C S Lewis
I did manage to join in with the conversation about the second book of Chris’s #Narniathon21, but again decided not inject comments about it in between #NordicFINDS posts.
Prince Caspian, the third book chronologically, the second published, sees the four Pevensies sitting at a railway station a year after their return from Narnia. Instead of going off to boarding school, they are drawn back to there by something. But it’s a different country to the one they knew and enjoyed for many years after the fall of Jadis and the rebirth of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They eventually recognise the ruins where they find themselves as Cair Paravel, and realise that many years have passed in Narnian time.
It is now a world dominated by humans, the Telmarines from a neighbouring country to Narnia. Initially there are no talking animals or mythical creatures to be seen, but when they rescue a dwarf from some soldiers, they have of course taken sides against the Telmarines led by Miraz, which leads to them meeting the renegade Prince Caspian, who has run away from his wicked uncle. It was Caspian who drew the Pevensies back to Narnia by blowing Susan’s lost horn. They discover that the talking beasts and mythical creatures are still there but banished or in hiding, and gradually they build an army to defeat Miraz.
Never my favourite in the series, I felt that this was very much a transitional book, setting the reader up for things to come. Showing us that there is a world beyond Narnia with people who are not appreciative of the old magic and non-human folk. But let’s face it, the warring humans are less interesting than the Jadis v Aslan.
This time I read from my original childhood Puffin copy, which has an application form to join the Puffin Club in the back, which I filled out, but never tore out to send – I note I’ve marked my age down as 7 1/3 – I hadn’t realised I was quite so young when I started reading this series.