Rivals, critics, enemies - I just couldn't stab them in the book


There seems to be a trend for autobiographies that "settle scores". There's been a glut of them recently - cricketer Kevin Pietersen on being ostracised by the "bullies" in the dressing room, actress Anjelica Huston on the behaviour of her former lovers including Jack Nicholson, and footballer Roy Keane on practically everyone who has ever crossed his path.

I recently published my own autobiography and deliberately didn't set out to get my own back on the people who have criticised me or caused me problems during my long career in theatre. It's interesting that some have remarked not on what I've written about my life but on what I've left out - the bitchiness, the rows, feuds, the critics who got it wrong, or "putting the knife into Dustin Hoffman" as someone remarked to me. So why haven't I written those things? Well, here are my reasons…

1. That wasn't why I wrote the book. I was hoping to follow Sir Philip Sidney's advice and "to move, instruct, and delight." Besides, it is impossible to settle a score. The best you can get is a score draw with injuries.

2. The written word can be very hurtful. A friend of mine, a successful publisher, read an early draft and counselled against mentioning that an actor forgot her lines. "You don't want her to read that," she said, "it will be too painful."

3. Mary Parsons, one of Peter Hall's excellent assistants, once told me that Peter "never scores points. Not in a meeting, not in a rehearsal, not in a letter. Never." Of course, there are some who have read Peter's diaries who disagree, but in 10 years of working with him I never noticed him doing that.

I grabbed him by the testicles... and he never forgot that

4. I had a good libel lawyer who, among other things, advised me against referring to Sophocles as the author of the The Oresteia.

He also told me that I should take out a reference to a friend of mine who once said: "I have every known drug in the world in my body."

5. Some of my scores have already been settled without me writing anything. When I was director of Hampstead Theatre, the Arts Council sent one of their little groups of assessors to evaluate our work. Their report said it would be much better if the theatre had a different artistic policy and, by implication, a different artistic director. Later that year, Hampstead won the Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Achievement which, to my mind, answered their report.

6. It is possible to answer criticisms in person without causing offence. When I was director of the Lyttelton Theatre at The National, John Peter, a clever, good-humoured man, was chief drama critic of the Sunday Times.

In his column one week, he was unusually negative about our recent work so, when I saw him in the foyer, I greeted him, as I always did, with a smile but, in this case, instead of a handshake, I reached out and grabbed his testicles in a gentle but friendly way. He thought this was very funny and, to the best of my knowledge, never forgot it. His reviews however continued to be both negative and positive.

I have never written a book let alone had one published so it astonished me to get such a great variety of response. But was I right to avoid scoring points or putting in the knife? Definitely. For one thing, this way I can go to more parties and first nights and, for another, I can still consider myself an artist and not a critic.

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