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The Actresses  - Barbara Ewing

"THE ACTRESSES" by Barbara Ewing (herself an actress, as well as a writer) is one of the most entertaining and insightful novels I've read so far this year.


The story begins in London during the mid-1990s at a reunion there - on a hot, summer day - of the members of the London Academy of Dramatic Art, Class of 1959. Among them is an actor from Wales who had gone on to become a Hollywood star and world celebrity, thrice married, and a real 'babe magnet'; an out-of-work soap opera star; a celebrated Shakespearean actor with a overwhelming conceit that comes from having a widely recognized talent, as well as being a chronic philanderer in a longstanding marriage to a fellow classmate who felt forced to put her promising acting career aside in order to be a good, supportive wife and mother to their 3 children; a lifelong understudy; 2 struggling middle-aged actresses who are firm friends who maintain together the hope of being "discovered" for their talent at long last; a gay actor who made a niche for himself as a character actor; a celebrated actress of stage and screen with her own painful secret from long ago; and a gray-haired woman, whose promising career as the youngest of the Class of 1959 and unforgettable husky voice in the early 1960s faded to nothing too soon, and she - for mysterious reasons - lapsed into obscurity til re-emerging to attend this reunion.


As the novel unfolds, it becomes clear to the reader that "age does not wipe out ambition. Or memory. Or love." Controversy ensues shortly after the reunion in which one of the famous members of the Class of 1959 becomes embroiled in a criminal case that attracts a hornet's nest of notoriety from the media.


Even with the drama of the court case later in the year, what I also found utterly fascinating was the author's fleshing out of the lives of all the main and supporting characters in this novel. I can't help but have a deep admiration and respect for anyone who goes to acting school and on to pursue an acting career. For such a career offers few, if any guarantees. And for the women who become actresses, the older they become, the more the likelihood that their opportunities for any work in the profession --- much less, rewarding work --- dry up. Molly McKenzie, the out-of-work soap opera star in her mid-50s, is a case in point. Early in the novel, in an introspective moment, she admits to herself that 'I was quite mad to ask to be written out of a crap telly soap where I was playing a well-paid glamorous part, thinking I'd get more serious work. What is 'serious' work? In my profession all work is serious. There is almost no work for women of my age. Men in their fifties are in their prime, women are old: end of story.'


This is a novel that keeps on giving, and when I reached its end, I was reluctant to leave because I became so immersed in the rich and -- for some of the characters - sad, tragic lives of the Class of 1959. For anyone going to the beach or a summer home for R&R, I highly recommend reading "THE ACTRESSES."