Monday, 12 July 2021

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Hamilton And Me; An Actor’s Journal’ by Giles Terera

Recently, Olivier Award-winning Giles Terera collected his MBE from St James’s Palace for services to theatre. As if his phenomenal range of acting credits isn’t enough to garner respect, he is also a writer, producer and director. His new release ‘Hamilton and Me’ delves (in journal format) into the creative process of originating the role of Aaron Burr on the West End in ‘Hamilton’; the musical you’ve either seen and adored, or are still desperate to see! If you don’t know anything about the show, you may want to hit Google (and Spotify) hard before continuing on with this review!

This book is made up of refined entries which were written in Terera’s journal throughout his Hamilton journey; from pre-audition through to opening night, he provides the reader with the gut-punching reality of being a performer and the sheer volume of research and work which went into bringing this character to life. 

His memoirs include an array of stories about his creative brainstorming and rehearsal alongside the iconic Hamilton Team (including Lin Manuel-Miranda, Alex Lacamoire, Thomas Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler) as well as naming the stellar West End cast one by one and how they impacted his journey to creating Aaron Burr. 

The analysis of the musical is so intelligent, it could only have come from someone on the inside who lived and breathed it 24 hours a day as Terera did. He recalls the pang of desire which hit him as he listened to the OBC recording in New York for the first time, so much so, once the first run-through had finished, he just started again.

Terera’s awareness of the lyrics which he is singing or rapping, as well as his fellow cast too, is remarkable. Throughout his journal he dissects the rhythms, syllables, repetition and language used by Burr in contrast to others. His comparisons between Burr and The Sons of Liberty (Laurens, Lafayette and Mulligan) and, of course, Alexander Hamilton, are nothing short of masterful. He also takes time to analyse lyrics from the Schuyler Sisters, with specific mention of Eliza’s heartbreaking solo in Act 2 ‘Burn’. Most impressive however is his calculated interpretation of “The Room Where It Happens”. Now I’ve heard his repetitive “I’ve got to be, I’ve got to be in the room” described as an “incantation”, I will never hear it in any other way. I was sucked in completely to his descriptions and remain sincerely impressed by his insights. 

The awareness Terera shows as the narrator of the piece; with Burr using his audience as a confidant as the story unfolds will make you see the show in an entirely new way. He cleverly observes that despite Burr’s opening confession in the first number “And me, I’m the damn fool that shot him”, as an audience, we are still hoping this is not true and there is a tension that remains throughout the piece, despite us knowing this to be the outcome. 

After reading this book from cover to cover, much like Terera listening to the Hamilton Cast Recording for the first time, as soon as it was over I had to start again. ‘Hamilton and Me’ is a superbly written journal packed full of well-articulated insights and beautifully described memories. This engaging journal is an absolute must-read for any Ham-Fan, or aspiring actor. It is a lesson in how to truly immerse yourself in your craft and meticulously work through your script to create a really sensational piece of work: in this case, what won Terera ‘Best Actor in a Musical’ at the Olivier Awards in 2018. His words are honest, precise and moving. It’s a spectacular insight into the inner working of a rehearsal room, as well as the inner workings of an actor’s mind. 

Review by Harriet Langdown 

Rating: ★★★★★
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