Tag Archives: David Hare

“Beat The Devil” at the Bridge Theatre

Leading the return to live theatre, Nicholas Hytner has his venue on the South Bank up and running. OK, it’s a season of monologues and we’ve seen a lot of them online during lockdown. And even though seats have been removed, rather than being left empty, the capacity is sadly shrunk. But the season, and this opening piece, are exciting. And it is great to be back inside an auditorium to experience theatre for real.

David Hare’s monologue is based on his own experience of contracting Covid-19. You might share my reservations about the subject matter – enough pandemic already! – but bringing Hare’s talent and intelligence to the subject is valuable. Full of insight and wit, with a perfect blend of humour around this serious topic, provides a healing quality to the show. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I left feeling that things are starting to get a little better.

The show has star appeal, with Ralph Fiennes taking the role of the writer. The delivery is impeccable, aided by Hytner’s confident direction, always aware of the text’s nuance. The balance of humour, humility and serious points is reflected well in the performance. The effects of this “dirty bomb” of a virus on Hare are detailed but contain no self-pity. More noticeable is the “survivor’s rage” when he comes to consider how politicians have been handling things.

It isn’t hard to claim Hare is preaching to the choir. There’s some fun personifying the virus, imagining it targeting Boris Johnson and Donald Trump’s faults. Developing an eloquent disbelief at how incompetent our leaders have shown themselves has considerable bite. As topical as could be, Hare’s anger is hopefully an indication of his full recovery. Holding those with power to account, as he has so many times in the past, is healthy and invigorating.

Until 31 October 2020

www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

"Peter Gynt" at the National Theatre

Maybe it’s Ibsen’s status as a playwright, or the position of this work in theatre history, but Peer Gynt has a special place in the canon. This is the play’s third outing on the South Bank – and it even has its own sculpture park in Oslo! Based on a folk tale (surely a take on the Everyman story), this life story over 40 scenes cares little about the practicalities of staging. Taking in tall tales and the supernatural, much of what happens is downright crazy. While Ibsen’s ambition is clearly inspiring, and it can be interesting to see how theatre makers deal with it, the vision itself is not. The relentlessly imparted messages mix wisdom with humour and anger in a manic fashion. It’s a bit like being shouted at. And, over three-and-a-half hours, being shouted at for a long time.

Everything in Peer Gynt has a meaning, with its symbols and metaphors continually highlighted. This becomes draining. David Hare’s version works hard to tackle the didactic style with self-conscious awareness and injects a considerable energy. Setting the action in Scotland (the show is co-produced by the Edinburgh International Festival) is used to good effect. Updating the play to the present day leads to even more laughs. But the satire, while a good way of handling Ibsen’s misanthropy, doesn’t contain any surprises. Perhaps real politics are too crazy to keep up with, but casting Peter as a Donald Trump figure or calling the World Economic Forum hypocritical seem too tame.

Ann Louise Ross and James McArdle in "Peter Gynt" at the National Theatre
Ann Louise Ross and James McArdle

Director Jonathan Kent also does an excellent job of making the action interesting. There are even a few songs thrown in to keep us on our toes. Richard Hudson’s design is full of appropriately quirky touches and video work from Dick Straker is strong (especially in a shipwreck scene). The massive cast is handled expertly and there are some great performances: Tamsin Carroll stands out as the Troll Princess, while Guy Henry and Oliver Ford Davies, whose roles as The Weird Passenger and The Button Moulder rank as similarly bizarre, bring a sense of ease to the stage. Yet it’s really only Ann Louise Ross as Peter’s mother who has a substantial character and leaves an impression – which goes to show how much the play relies on its central performer.

James McArdle in "Peter Gynt" at the National Theatre
James McArdle

James McArdle steps into the well-travelled shoes as Peter/Peer. He is excellent. Technically, he can hold the massive Olivier auditorium and his physical fitness, running around all the time and barely off stage, is impressive. He handles his character’s ageing with a light touch that indicates his justified confidence. Best of all, he injects a warmth into Peter that keeps you watching. From the start, driven by anger and ego, McArdle brings out the character’s humanity, distracting from the many abstractions in the play. Peter is a unique hero, who we follow despite his many unattractive qualities. This production is as entertaining as you could wish for, and it really is a star performance from McArdle. But it’s still difficult to understand the play’s strange hold over the theatre.

Until 8 October 2019

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

"I’m Not Running" at the National Theatre

A life in politics, with new trends and old truths, is tackled in David Hare’s latest work. Hare imagines the success of a fictitious independent campaigner for the NHS, a single-issue candidate with a populist touch, who gains such momentum she just might run for leader of the Labour Party. This will-she-won’t-she drama proves surprisingly entertaining.

Focusing on a heroine means Hare tackles current developments in feminism, a bold move that he carries off well. The character of Pauline Gibson condenses many problems women face with insight and humour, although she’s written a little too naïve – the play spans 20 years and there isn’t enough personal development. But it’s a star role for Siân Brooke who, while shouting a tad excessively, manages to make a demanding role look easy work and proves a captivating presence with the charisma the character calls for.

Considering Gibson as a new kind of politician gives the play topical cachet. The debate is about party machinery, admittedly an easy target, and Hare gets good laughs with plenty of insight. A press officer, whose character is given depth by Joshua McGuire, makes for one successful foil. Gibson’s college boyfriend and then leadership rival is the show’s second lead: Alex Hassell’s Blairite creation is delicious fun, just the right side of caricature. The romance between Brooke and Hassell’s characters wastes time. It’s too easy to spot where director Neil Armfield has tried to inject pace, and the arguments that ensue are contrived.

Either Gibson is your worst nightmare or she’s the politician we need rather than the one we deserve. Either way, the character is too simplistic for I’m Not Running to be truly brilliant. The play is a traditional affair; inexplicably Hare’s craftsmanship and the very idea of a national debate at the National Theatre turns some off. But perhaps what dates Hare most is his wry, sardonic tone. This is playwright as sage, a role Hare has earned and that I am happy to subscribe to. The distance in his authorial voice gives a calmer approach than much current political discussion and makes him, refreshingly, open and questioning. And Hare has the experience to make the topic work theatrically. Clearly, the subject matter is important. This play is about the most powerful political ingredient – hope. And examining how realistic we are about our politicians is essential. But the real skill here is to make such ideas exciting. Will Gibson renege on a statement not to run? Will a politician actually end up telling the truth? Despite expectations, Hare makes the question gripping.

Until 31 January 2019

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Mark Douet.

"The Red Barn" at the National Theatre

I am happily reading Penguin’s reissue of George Simenon’s Maigret novels, so David Hare’s adaptation of a stand-alone novel from the great author offers the chance to branch out from brilliant detective stories into a psychological thriller of a different kind. Hare’s adaptation is accomplished. Moving away from the book’s first-person narration, which details the mental breakdown of a successful lawyer, here we have a superb ménage à trois of lawyer, wife and mistress that’s better suited to the stage.
As for the production’s dressing – it is truly impeccable. Given that Simenon was concerned more with clarity than any modishness, the 1960s nostalgia goes possibly too far here. Robert Icke directs with a strong cinematic feel, creating cool that isn’t out of place… but feels almost fetishised. The stage curtains slide – up and down, left and right – creating apertures for us. With astonishing rapidity, we are taken to the different scenes of Bunny Christie’s meticulous set – homey farm, glam penthouse – and it’s a real technical achievement. Icke feels the need for a camera’s speed, which is a slight shame with a story this good, but there’s no doubt the show is gripping and the ending a real shock. No quibbles either with the soundtrack, a subtle masterpiece by Tom Gibbons that gets you slowly sliding to the edge of your seat.
The cast is stellar. Mark Strong leads, convincing us that his character, Donald Dodd, was once a decent man. It’s a single event, almost whimsical – when no effort is made to save a friend lost in a blizzard – that changes everything. The subsequent turmoil feels real and, impressively, is never overplayed. And Dodd’s pent-up frustration is more than sexual, an important point that Icke preserves throughout. By the by, Strong’s wig is superb.
Hope Davis plays Ingrid, the “serene” wife, whose husband’s paranoia makes her all-seeing. Davis skilfully brings out Ingrid’s intelligence without making her seem too cold, portraying the occasional moment of frankness with subtlety. Donald’s affair is with his former friend’s wife, Mona, played by Elizabeth Debicki, who also gets the chance to reveal layers of a character that comes to fascinate. Determined not to play the “weeping widows”, at a couple of points it’s Ingrid and Mona’s relationship that excites most. It’s with the two women in the piece that Hare makes his mark, doing justice to Simenon’s skills and creating a theatrical piece worthy of his name.
Until 17 January 2017
www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Photo by Manuel Harlan

"The Master Builder" at the Old Vic

Matthew Warchus’ finest work since taking charge at the Old Vic marks new ground for the director – his first Ibsen play. With a vivid new adaptation by David Hare and a lavish set – with a trick up its sleeve – from Rob Howell, this is a luxurious production with a superb cast. In this demanding play of ideas, there’s a marriage in turmoil, plenty of hypocrisy, painful psychological insight and a mid-life crisis that, at times, poses as philosophy. Miraculously, it’s all present and correct.
A trio of women make life, let’s say, complicated, for the eponymous subject of the play, Halvard Solness. Fearing for the future, Solness is paranoid that “the young will arrive”, while also guilty about his past – his career success making him the archetypal Man who had all the luck. There’s the overdevoted bookkeeper (Charlie Cameron) he uses despicably. There’s his dutiful wife, a role made weighty by an excellent performance from Linda Emond. Above all, there’s the enigmatic Hilde, who Solness once encountered as a child and creepily promised to make a princess. Now Hilde’s at the door, demanding her castle in the air and showing an unhealthy interest in steeples. This London debut from rising Australian star Sarah Snook is one people will be talking about for a long time – Snook brings a deep-voiced, earthy quality to this ethereal, childish and dangerous heroine.

Linda Emond (Aline Solness) and Sarah Snook (Hilde Wangel) in The Master Builder at The Old Vic. Photos by Manuel Harlan.
Linda Emond and Sarah Snook

In the title role, Ralph Fiennes gives one of the finest performances of his career. In his studio, his bullying lothario is convincingly charismatic and dry witted – Fiennes has always been good at lofty but here we’re allowed to laugh at the character as well, a clever layering that squeezes out the text’s suggestions and innuendo. Solness’ ego never takes a break. But there’s something wrong. His artistic output is linked to an argument with God and any mistakes or errors of judgment become a question of free will. Accounting for Hilde’s strange hold over him, there’s talk of trolls and devils, and a belief that he has some kind of supernatural help, making his wishes comes true “mercilessly”.
With Ibsen revealing cruel truths and Fiennes up to the job of depicting them, we come to see the “soft and gentle” side Solness’ wife claims exist. The pain at the loss of his children and disappointment that, while he builds homes, there is “nothing but despair” in his own, means the solipsism slips. And finally, there’s fear, expressed as crippling vertigo, through which we fully appreciate the deconstruction of the character Fiennes so carefully presents. It’s a masterfully built performance that should not be missed.
Until 19 March 2016
www.oldvictheatre.com
Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Behind The Beautiful Forevers” at the National Theatre

David Hare’s new play is an exemplary dramatisation of Katherine Boo’s non-fiction work about the slums of Mumbai. Hare squeezes the most theatrical moments out of Boo’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning reportage, preserving the clarity of voice and retaining the objective tone that gives the book such power. Boo’s research into the Annawadi slum, whose destitute inhabitants live off rubbish generated by the nearby airport, investigates poverty in an intelligent, non-patronising and thought-provoking manner. The book and stage show are glimpses into another world – horrifying and filled with tragedy, and yet full of life and hope.

Stephanie Street - Asha Waghekar, Meera Syal - Zehrunisa Husain Behind the Beautiful Forevers image by Richard Hubert Smith2
Stephanie Street as Asha Waghekar and Meera Syal as Zehrunisa Husain

A strong cast peoples the slum effectively. One surprise is how matrifocal society in Annawadi is. Stephanie Street plays Asha, a ruthless yet complex figure aiming to control the slum, with her own shocking take on the virtues of corruption. Victims abound, including the once relatively prosperous Hussain family, headed by Zehrunisa (Meera Syal gives a terrific performance), caught in the Indian legal system after the tragic machinations of their neighbour Fatima. Thusitha Jayasundera, who wonderfully doubles as a judge, takes the part of the crippled Fatima, who burns herself to death to spite the Hussains. A parallel tale of a girl so desperate that she drinks bleach shows the prevalence of suicide in the slum as an act of self-determination – grim exercises in defiance that come to haunt the stage.
Designer Katrina Lindsay recreates the spatchcock dwellings with bold economy. Director Rufus Norris marshals activity to recreate the energy of the environment and especially among its younger inhabitants: Sunil, who becomes a thief despite the dangers, and the innocent Abdul, whose brush with the law makes him want to become ever more virtuous. Further strong performances here from Hiran Abeysekera and Shane Zaza in these roles. As Norris’ first project at the National since the announcement that he is to succeed Nicholas Hytner, Behind The Beautiful Forevers is an exciting choice. Norris uses the Olivier auditorium with confidence, revelling in its scale. More importantly, he and Hare have created one of those works of theatre that strike you as something everyone should see.
Until 13 April 2015
www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Photos by Richard Hubert Smith

"The Judas Kiss" at Hampstead Theatre

David Hare’s 1998 play, The Judas Kiss, takes two pivotal moments in Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas: his refusal to flee to the continent before his arrest for ‘gross indecency’ and the couple’s final split in Naples. The story makes terrific drama. Under the expert hands of renowned Australian director Neil Armfield, this well-known tale is used to explore the emotions and motivations behind a great love story.
It’s not often that a casting director gets a mention in a review but Cara Beckinsale deserves it. Rupert Everett as Wilde seems so obviously right that it’s strange he hasn’t taken on the part before. His physical transformation is remarkable – the resemblance uncanny – and his intelligent and magnetic performance swings from brilliant dazzler to private thinker, aware that he has been “cast in a role”.
Freddie Fox brings his cheekbones and youth to the role of Lord Alfred Douglas, but he doesn’t just look the part. This ‘Bosie’ goes beyond the spoilt child – Fox gives his selfishness a pathological edge. The Judas Kiss is really a three-hander, with the part played by Robbie Ross in Wilde’s life given the place it deserves. Dismissed by Douglas as “third party”, this integral figure is poignantly portrayed by Cal MacAninch.
Ross’s presence is just another example of what a well-crafted play The Judas Kiss is. Taking on big themes, as Wilde believed an artist should, and arguably sneaking in a few more – issue of rights, freedom and a “crisis of silence” – that make Wilde’s plight feel contemporary, Wilde becomes more than a gay martyr or quotable figure. In Hare’s hands he is made human. This give The Judas Kiss the passion needed for great theatre.
Until 13 October 2012.
www.hampsteadtheatre.com
Photo by Manuel Harlan
Written 13 September 2012 for The London Magazine