Utopia and Other Places by Richard Eyre

51kQXSIgP6L Richard Eyre, film and theatre director, former boss of the National Theatre, good egg and once – as the cover photo shows – a rather dashing young man. Utopia & Other Places is a memoir, with a particular emphasis on his early years. In some ways he was very privileged, in some ways horribly treated (oh, for fuck’s sake, boarding schools, why?) The moment his parents drove away, leaving him at the age of eight, ‘inspired a pain and resentment that the wisdom or forgiveness of hindsight hasn’t diminished’. His beloved mother died soon after slipping into dementia in her fifties. His father lasted much longer. ‘Apart from riding, my father’s main enthusiasms were drink and sex’. Safe to say this was a more complex relationship. ‘We try all our lives to separate ourselves from them and only when they are dead do we find we are indivisible,’ Eyre writes of parents in general. Good point. In a preface to this edition, he admits that he was not entirely true to his father’s memory in the book. He thought he was being ‘objective and fair’ but after a decade realises that his portrait ‘now seems tainted by a lack of generosity and a failure of empathy’. He has the good grace not to rewrite anything. Eyre was a poor actor himself, which is why he gave it up early: ‘Confidence is nine-tenths of the business of acting and when my confidence deflated I was left with nothing but despair.’ However, he is illuminating on what makes the best actors tick. Oddly, there’s very little about his battle with depression here, which is detailed slightly more fully in his diary of being boss of the National Theatre, National Service. Pity. And there is a dichotomy in Eyre’s writing: it’s easier to rail against the establishment when you could hardly be a more obvious fixture of it and continue to enjoy the benefits it provides. Of course he knows this and writes, when despairing of people seeing public school as the path to social advancement: ‘Easy enough for me to say, of course, as a member of the club.’ Impeccably liberal, writes beautifully, is blessed with modesty. Great dinner guest, I would think.

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