WHAT DO I KNOW? Richard Eyre
Pub: NHB Autumn 2014
ISBN: 9 781848 424180
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 06 December 2014
Intelligent, informative, insightful
Here’s a major collection of essays, musings and snippets by one of the UK’s leading theatre practitioners. They reflect a lifetime’s work directing and writing, running the National Theatre and presenting a significant Channel 4 series on modern theatre.
Excellently presented by NHB the collection offers a unique glimpse into the theatre world. The pieces always have something to offer, frequently have important things to say and reveal as much about the man as they do about the work. The book is divided into three sections; the first incorporates short sketches of significant theatre people, the second some musings on the political scene(s) and the third longer pieces developing trains of insightful thinking.
The final section is marvellous; for the general reader interested in drama and for the academic these are serious and revealing essays. They are worthy of close reading and offer much to our body of knowledge. The article on Lear, for instance, not only unfolds the development of an idea that underpinned his Ian Holm production but also talks about the practicality, difficulties and luck involved in casting. The description of the set development is fascinating. In the Changing Stages section, the paragraphs about Inishmaan are beautiful.
The political section is the least successful. While always interesting, Eyre can’t avoid the impression of elements of the worst kind of (very comfortable indeed) armchair politics. Regular references to being in other parts of the word, meant no doubt to let us know how international is his experience, lend the impression of luxury leading to distancing from the real world. It feels like privileged meddling.
The opening series of short people sketches are delightful. For the most part very short, these are items to dip into. They are as revealing as the final section articles, but in a neighbourly way. There is a delightful wit about them too. The crystallisation that John Mortimer liked women more than champagne more than socialism in no way diminishes JM; it enhances his reputation as a great, left of centre, character – and how we wish there were more of them. (The UK would be a better place for it.)
Notwithstanding my reservation about the middle section, this book is a valuable contribution to the body of work on UK theatre and drama. It is not theoretical whimsy but feet-on-the-ground theory and practice.