Lucky Break
Esther Freud
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Buy *Lucky Break* by Esther Freud online

Lucky Break
Esther Freud
Bloomsbury USA
320 pages
October 2011
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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In Lucky Break, Freud delivers a timeless, satirical panorama of the theater world, emphasizing its highs and lows, its courage and its fears. You can feel the glittery painted shades of autobiography seething off the pages in a story that is obviously inspired Freud and her husband, David Morrissey, as they trolled around in London’s fringe theater in their younger days.

In thrall to the bright lights of stage and screen, aspiration and yearning frame tall, angular, beautiful Charlie, with her coffee-colored skin; lanky Dan, with his dark tousled hair and slow, lopsided smile; and Charlie’s best friend, Nell, who as the story begins is enthusiastically rushing up the shallow steps of London’s Drama Arts, confident and fearful in equal measure.

Freud shepherds her characters through their passionate attempts to conquer the stage. They are completely unaware that the hammer is poised and ready to slam down. Some of them will never make it beyond the second year. First, however, they must meet the demands of long days of rehearsal presided over by the formidable head teacher, Patrick Bower.

As they fix their eyes on Patrick, their pale faces turned up like “wilting flowers,” Pierre, Gemma, Dan, Charlie and Nell must face the knowledge that some of them, for various reasons, will be released from their obligations. From the rigors of inhabiting a character to ballet classes and the “unfamiliar tightness of tights,” all face the vicious-tongued ballet master with his flowery Italian accent and his accusatory, hawkish eyes.

Freud’s students journey out into the world where friends, family, agents and various casting directors come and go while speeding the budding actors on their way. While most are steeped in a tragic air of knowledge that jobs will be few and far between, in Freud’s proficient hands we witness the early years: the endless hours waiting by the phone, the seduction of avaricious directors, of lies, ambition, duplicity and hopelessness.

The actor’s struggle is beautifully portrayed: the entire winters of 5:00am starts, the won and lost agents, Charlie’s dilemma at doing nude scenes, and Dan’s desire to be a great actor and still be loyal to his wife when his American manager calls with good news about his first casting in Los Angeles. Then there's desperate Nell, who has to resort to playing a penguin in children’s theater so she can get an actor’s equity card. While trawling and jostling with jugglers and stilt-walkers in Edinburgh, she’s unable to hold back her enthusiasm when her agent finally calls with details of new auditions.

London is hot, dense and languid, providing the perfect background to this claustrophobic tale. From bunking up with multiple flat mates, to night shifts at the local pizza parlor to make ends meet, to healthy pub camaraderie, the brittle nerves and cold fear inevitably take hold. Charlie’s stomach lurches at the thought of no longer having perfect, unblemished skin while Dan stands, palms sweating, clutching the wings, the audience only yards away from the man who will “eventually suffer agony for their sakes.”

An actor’s life is fraught with difficult choices and agendas. Freud flawlessly executes this anguish, but her tale also shows how it only takes one role and a vast stroke of luck to finally hit the big time. A roller-coaster journey and an entertaining one, Lucky Break is a veritable smorgasbord of brightly lit drama, impossible to put down until the final certain is closed.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2011

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