Sunday, December 02, 2018

The National Theatre - I'm not Running by David Hare


Unfortunately my bid (see last week's blog post) in the ballot for tickets to the new NT play "When we have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other"  was unsuccessful though I might queue for day tickets some time in 2019.

Meanwhile mrs maytrees and myself were treated by my kind sister yesterday, to a performance at the National Theatre of the new David Hare play "I'm not Running."

David Hare has written many plays some of which I have seen over the years. My impression is that he is an extremely good playright though with a tendency to be left of centre politically so I have thought of him as being an "armchair socialist" of the Islington variety.  

For example his play "The Permanent Way"  as I recollect, largely criticised the de-nationalisation of British Railways by depicting a number of fatal railway accidents whilst the railways were in private hands. However the play singularly failed to mention the dreadful Hither Green or Clapham Junction railway crashes which took place a few years earlier whilst trains were publicly run. The  horrific Clapham Junction crash occurred only minutes after my own train had safely passed by on the same route so that was not a play I enjoyed over much. 

On the other hand his play "Racing Demon" which was part of the same series of plays was very enjoyable and interesting to be part of - almost literally as members of the audience including mrs maytrees and I were able to sit on stage and be part of the Anglican annual conference, which was very cleverly being depicted in the production.

I'm Not Running so my kind sister who had bought the tickets informed  us was not very well reviewed and the plot was about the Labour Party which sounded slightly dull. In fact the production was not at all dull and indeed was unlike perhaps The Permanent Way not at all political.

The Guardian Review is fair:

David Hare has acute antennae and in his 17th new play for the National, he ranges over any number of current topics: single-issue politics, domestic abuse, the NHS, the state of the Labourparty. It pricks the mind and boasts a strong performance from Siân Brooke as another of Hare’s complex female protagonists. Yet it is a less-than-perfect dramatic structure and has one puzzling piece of characterisation.
The action starts in 2018 with a press conference about whether Pauline Gibson, an MP who has become the angel of the NHS, intends to stand for the Labour leadership. The play then zigzags back in time to trace Pauline’s progress. We see her as a medical student in 1997 in Newcastle, where her fraught relationship with her lover, Jack Gould, is on the verge of collapse. Hare follows the divergent paths these two characters take over the years.
  
  Pauline works as a doctor, campaigns to save a Corby hospital and, having become a national icon, stands for parliament as an independent before finally joining the Labour party. Meanwhile, Jack follows the orthodox path of the machine politician to the point where he finds himself potentially pitted against Pauline as a future Labour leader. The question is: will she run?
It’s a scenario that gives Hare freedom to explore any number of ideas, in particular, whether the virtuous integrity of the single-issue militant can survive the messy compromises of party politics. In a tremendous penultimate scene between Pauline and Jack, Hare hits several bullseyes, such as Labour’s greater interest in process than in votes and its tribal reluctance to elect a female leader. As always with Hare, the play is packed with sharp and witty apercus and highly quotable lines.But, in tracing all the forces that motivate Pauline, the play sometimes loses impetus. A scene with her mother, who has become an alcoholic after years of violent abuse, helps explain Pauline’s anger but doesn’t do much to drive the action forwards.
Similarly a scene detailing the difficulties faced by the aspirational daughter of an immigrant family seems to be there to make a number of points. I was also left asking why Pauline can’t entirely shake off her long-ago love for Jack: a man who categorises feminism as stupid and lazy and who puts political ambition before emotional honesty.

 For all its faults, the play still fascinates and Neil Armfield’s lucid production gets a terrific performance from Brooke. I was strongly reminded of the character of Susan Traherne in Hare’s Plenty, in that Pauline is another idealist in an imperfect world; Brooke captures perfectly her mix of fury over our worship of the false god of “efficiency” and her failings, such as the faint air of self-righteousness.
Pauline is no saint, but rather, as Brooke shows, a woman who abandons the idea that left and right are dated concepts to learn that inequality can only be fought through party allegiance. Alex Hassell lends the dubious Jack a smooth charisma and there is good support from Joshua McGuire as Pauline’s loyal press agent and from Amaka Okafor as a Westminster staffer.
Even if the play sometimes lacks momentum (as well as any reference to Momentum), it still shows Hare’s capacity to use theatre to take the moral temperature of the times.
However my sister mrs maytrees and I enjoyed yesterday afternoon's performance to the extent that I anyway, felt it deserved 4*s rather than the 3 *s allocated by the Guardian. 


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