I was delighted last week when I read a review of a book we published recently to great acclaim by everyone who read it, including Steven Berkoff, the actor, playwright and theatre director whose style was once described by the drama critic Aleks Sierz as ‘in-yer-face theatre’, as follows:
‘The language is usually filthy, characters talk about unmentionable subjects, take their clothes off, have sex, humiliate each other, experience unpleasant emotions, become suddenly violent. At its best, this kind of theatre is so powerful, so visceral that it forces audiences to react: either they feel like fleeing the building or they are suddenly convinced that it is the best thing they have ever seen and want all their friends to see it too. It is the kind of theatre that inspires us to use superlatives, whether in praise or condemnation.’
I was equally thrilled that Berkoff whose path happened to cross mine as the publisher of his book Gross Intrusion, a collection of short stories which Quartet published in 1993, for the simple reason that his review of Unaccompanied Minor by Alexander Newley was beautifully expressed as follows:
‘I recently read Alexander Newley’s brilliant autobiography ‘Unaccompanied Minor’. I can’t recommend it enough. ‘‘Unaccompanied Minor’ by Alexander Newley is one of the most compelling and readable memoirs I have ever spent valuable hours on. It’s a page turner!
Even more so when your parents are Joan Collins and theatrical legend Anthony Newley. Well we all know Joan, but who’s Anthony Newley? Being an oldie I can claim a far greater sense of possession of this once great cabaret performer and songwriter, who was nothing less than a force of nature on stage and a gifted writer of lyrics that have lasted through the decades. It was a performance unlike any other I had seen in which Newley used every technique in the book, appearing as a white-faced mime, clown, singer, actor and who wrote the damn thing as well!
His son Alexander has somehow absorbed his father’s Psychic DNA. He is a very different kind of Littlechap, but there he is still struggling, still fighting against the whips and scorns and even now at middle age there is a very touching portrait of Alexander, actually a self-portrait of the older boy shown comforting himself as a child. The child holding onto his older self’s shorts while the present has his arm round him protectively.
There is also a second portrait in the book, also painted by Newley (a consummate painter), of the child Newley and his sister sitting on the back of his beloved dad. He and his sister Tara are sandwiched between the older Tony Newley and Joan Collins. Again the present Newley stands watching, arms crossed in the background. The painting is ablaze with sunshine and Tony Newley looks idyllically happy, as does Joan kneeling proudly.
Newley looks on wistfully if not sadly, as if wishing this life of happy families will last forever but it doesn’t. The two big stars part and then poor Alexander becomes a divided being, feeling perpetually torn apart except for the few rare times when he re-joins his dad for some quality time on a fishing trip to Alaska which is evoked in some of his best writing of the book.
Newley, like his pa is almost unfairly gifted with talent, as both a painter and now as a highly gifted writer. His own face graces the dust jacket of the book. It is a bold, expressive portrait and yet his expression is riven with anguish. Yet one might say that he has also been spoiled rotten throughout his young life, but that seems to make little difference to a young boy who is craving the simplest of comforts, a family.’
As the publisher of Unaccompanied Minor, what more can I say than endorse what Steven Berkoff has already said. However, my own advice is buy the book and find out for yourself