5 days in the life of ... Alex Jennings

The RSC actor juggles the roles of Benedick, Hamlet - and Dad

MONDAY: I woke up in a four-poster bed at Cliveden, in Buckinghamshire, the former country home of the Astor family. I had performed there on Sunday with Christopher Luscombe and June Whitfield. At Cliveden part of the deal is that they look after you very nicely. I had breakfast in the lap of luxury. Not every weekend is like that. It was also my son Ralph's birthday; he was eight, and had a cake with breakfast before embarking on a Lego submarine. We swam and stayed in the sauna and hot tub until lunchtime, then drove to London for an RSC performance of Much Ado About Nothing at the Barbican, in which I play Benedick. It was quite a good show; a very responsive audience. You get to know early on - you pinpoint a moment and if you get a response, you think 'We're going to be all right tonight'. If you don't, your heart sinks.

TUESDAY: I visited a sports and injury person who tried to solve my recurrent back problems. I was returning home from university 20 years ago and something went 'click' as I unpacked the car. It's been on and off ever since. I have to exercise quite a lot, which is slightly worrying. I was pummelled and pulled and massaged and punched, but I think I've finally found somebody who has worked out what it is. On stage, the adrenaline takes over, but sometimes I notice it. I'm playing Hamlet as well at the moment, and it's quite physical; you're on stage for four hours and you are knackered by the end of it, physically and mentally.

WEDNESDAY: It's been a busy week. At lunchtime I went to the Ivy for the launch of a BBC trilogy of Arena documentaries about Noel Coward, which is going to be shown over Easter. They have unearthed a lot of home movie footage that he took of his travels during the 1930s, which is fantastic. There were all sorts of people there; Sir John Mills; Sir Anthony Havelock- Allen, producer of the films made during the 1940s; Ronald Neame, cameraman on some of the films Coward made with David Lean; Coward's secretary; and Graham Payn, his companion. It was great to be involved. I came home and played with the children, then went to play Hamlet. How it went I can't remember; the performance tends to blend into the next.

THURSDAY: Played Hamlet twice, in a matinee and evening performance, so I was absolutely exhausted. We have a lie-down between shows, and I get up feeling a bit punchy before the second one. I don't do any special preparation; I just try to empty my head and see what happens, see what the words do. I have just read a book by David Mamet, called True or False, about good and bad acting, and I am trying to be simple and not to try so hard. It can pay dividends.

What's so wonderful about Hamlet is that you are never going to be definitive; you just have to try to tell the story in a clear and fresh way. Luckily, the play's pretty good so it supports you and there's always something else to be mined from it. I never particularly wanted to play the part. Adrian Noble, the RSC's artistic director, asked me; I was quite surprised but there was no possibility of saying no - it seemed slightly churlish and I knew I probably wouldn't get the opportunity again as I was fast approaching 40.

Tonight, we had a major technical glitch when something went wrong with the sound system. I broke a prop in a fit of pique in the wings - Hamlet's father's urn. I threw it at the table. I don't usually do that kind of thing ...

FRIDAY: Went to see my daughter Georgia, who's five, playing a dinosaur in her school play. Then off to play Hamlet again.

'Hamlet' and 'Much Ado About Nothing' are at the RSC Barbican Theatre, London EC2 (0171 638 8891).

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