Playing Under The Piano Book Review – Light Hearted and Funny Memoir

Playing Under The Piano, from Other Press and author/actor Hugh Bonneville, presents a lively memoir filled with tantalizing tidbits of memorable moments throughout his career told with satire and wit from the theater to the big screen.

The accomplished actor, familiar to audiences worldwide for his roles in Notting Hill, the Paddington films, Downton Abbey and the recent Netflix thriller I Came By, pens his journey from the humble beginnings as the Third Shepherd in the school nativity play, to navigating Highclere Castle's complex Labrador policies, to mistaking a Hollywood star for an estate agent.

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In the introduction he recalls a conversation during the script discussions for Downton Abbey, which readers will immediately be given an insider's role in the behind-the-scenes life the beginnings of the film and acclaimed series through what has now become a global phenomenon.

Like many a young man, Bonneville was determined to gain a girlfriend by acting in the school play, which we find out was a tad difficult as he attended an all-boys school. It is this style of humor and personal insight that make Playing Under The Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru a must read.

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As his career moves ahead, he reveal his moment of levity working with Sir Kenneth Branagh as a writer ironing out a few scenes in Frankenstein, and the rush of making the scenes happen as quickly as Branagh's brain worked in the days before email when there was only one fax machine on the entire street.

The memoir creates a brilliantly vivid picture of a career on stage and screen and of course told with a satire and wit that allow readers to see beyond the larger-than-life persona into what reads as someone who is immensely grateful and humbled by the opportunities.

Academy Award winning actor Gary Oldman, states, "Hugh Bonneville's considerable talent for writing is on display page after page. Beautiful, touching and funny."

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Playing Under The Piano, at 361 pages, is divided into three sections: "Beginner's Please," "Curtain's Up" and "Roll Sound."

What is it like working with Judi Dench, Kate Winslet Maggie Smith, Anthony Hopkins, Ralph Fiennes, Julia Roberts, playing Robert de Niro's right leg, or not being Gary Oldman, twice? As a naturally gifted writer and uproariously funny storyteller, Bonneville also writes with poignancy about his father's dementia and of his mother, whose life in the secret service only emerged after her death. 

He also brings us up close and personal—though his wit is always kindly, and invariably directed at himself. There is shade as well as light to his memoir. Hugh is fascinating on the craft of acting—how to "inhabit" a role, the intense preparation required, and what it has been like to work with the foremost directors and playwrights of our time, as well as a huge range of classical roles.

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Humor keeps bubbling to the surface, however: whether telling stories of his B & H, G & T, horseracing-addicted grandmother, how the instruction "call my agent" can backfire horribly or working with a two-foot-high animated bear called "Paddington." 

Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville's lighthearted and satirical memoir Playing under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru pulls back the curtain for a behind the scenes look, is available beginning November 8, 2022 at book sellers and retailers worldwide. A must read! 


Title: Playing Under the Piano: From Downton to Darkest Peru.

Author: Hugh Bonneville. 

Publisher: Other Press Hardcover

ISBN: 978-1-63542-342-6.

Sale Date: November 8, 2022. 

MSRP: Price: $28.99.

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