Review by Ben Macnair
Publisher: Vintage 6th February 2020
ISBN-13: 9781784703387 PB
Zawe Ashton has been acting since she was six. She is best known for such shows as Fresh Meat, and also on stage, with credits to her name as an actor, writer and producer.
Character Breakdown is described as a memoir, but it also works well as fiction, with a meta-narrative, alternating chapters written as short plays, and character studies, but it is a look at how we see ourselves, and how that image can be changed with how other people see us.
As well as the successes, the book also looks at the amount of failure and rejections anyone in any creative field has to go through. We look at the work of agents, of other actors, how actors will travel miles for an audition that takes less than minutes. The hours spent on journeys, or on trying to find the positives in a weak script or an even weaker idea.
The play-like vignettes are particularly revealing, as Ashton talks to, either in person, on the telephone, or by email to her friends, her therapist, play producers, writers and other people who make up the many varied elements of her acting life.
There are many bleaker moments in the book, such as discussion about body image, racism, sexism, and the part that mental health plays in life, but the book has a somewhat uplifting if slightly ambiguous ending.
The book is very well written, with the idea of the body of the narrative and the short play chapters being a central motif, rather than an unusual gimmick.
The book is a relatively quick and easy read with much to say about the current state of the arts in the country, and the effect that it has on its many practitioners, who are at the coal face, doing the work in the dark, hoping that soon, the spotlight will shine on them, and there will be an audience when it does.