Books

Acting Class by Nick Drnaso review: Misfit drama students and one increasingly erratic teacher

Nick Drnaso's Acting Class is a story of self-discovery and friendship that descends into something altogether darker and more disturbing

Three silhouettes on stage

Are they learning stagecraft, or are they in a cult? Image: Kyle Head on Unsplash

Nick Drnaso’s Acting Class treats human connection from the other direction. The book is a large-format, hardback graphic novel set in contemporary America, looking at issues of alienation in modern society. 

The set-up is pretty simple, a disparate collection of frustrated and disillusioned characters join a somewhat sketchy amateur acting class run by a mysterious teacher called John Smith in a local community centre. They are all social misfits, and the promise of newfound confidence drives them to look both inwards and outwards in Smith’s increasingly erratic and challenging classes.

Drnaso’s drawing style is deliberately blank and his colour palette muted, lending a deadpan atmosphere to his drawn-out scenes, something that smartly underpins the possibly transformative experiences of his characters. He switches between reality and fantasy as the lessons become more involved, and the students blur the lines about who they are and how they interact with the world.

Acting Class by Nick Drnaso
Acting Class by Nick Drnaso is out now
(Granta Books, £20)

The classes become more extreme, and the teacher’s motivations gradually reveal themselves, but Drnaso doesn’t draw obvious conclusions. Is this little more than a cult, preying on the vulnerable in society, or are the students really able to bring about the confident change in their lives as promised? It’s dark and disturbing stuff at times as the students explore their innermost fears and worries, but it’s a powerful story that takes in self-discovery, community and exploitation.

You can buy Acting Class from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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