Hare, David (Vol. 132)
David Hare 1947-
English dramatist, screenwriter, essayist, interviewer, and memoirist.
The following entry presents an overview of Hare's career through 1999. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 29 and 58.
Hare distinguished himself during the 1970s as a playwright concerned with contemporary social and political issues. Considered one of the most literate of his generation of British dramatists, his works often reveal his attraction to socialism and frequently address such concerns as post-imperial Britain and the destructive nature of Britain's class system. Hare's plays typically revolve around individuals who find themselves incapable of changing either society or themselves. As a playwright, Hare uses “subversive art” to compel audience members to examine their conventional beliefs. Highly regarded for their wit and technical construction, Hare's dramas are widely praised for the variety of subjects they address and for employing complex characterization to contrast aspects of social good and evil.
Hare was born June 5, 1947, the second child of a passenger-ship purser and his wife, in St. Leonards, located in Sussex, England. The family later moved to the resort town of Bexhill-on-Sea. Hare was sent as a scholarship boarder to Lancing College, a public school (a British “public” school is equivalent to a “private” school in the United States). He then studied English at Cambridge University's Jesus College, receiving his M.A. degree with honors in 1968. That same year, Hare and Tony Bicat founded the Portable Theatre, an experimental touring group that performed in sites such as storefronts and gymnasiums. Several playwrights associated with the Portable Theatre are referred to as the “Fringe Playwrights” because they expressed their politically radical views in small London theaters. Hare and Bicat staged a one-act dramatization of Kafka's Diaries, which they called Inside Out (1968), as the Portable Theatre's first play. The following year, Hare was appointed literary manager at the Royal Court Theatre, which staged his first play, How Brophy Made Good (1969). During this time, Hare began directing plays by other writers, including Howard Brenton and David Mowat. Slag (1970), which opened at the Hampstead Theatre Club, earned Hare an Evening Standard drama award, as did Pravda (1985), which he co-wrote with Brenton. In 1970, Hare was named resident dramatist at the Royal Court Theatre. That same year, he married Margaret Matheson, with whom he shares three children; the couple divorced in 1980. After years of working in fringe theaters, Knuckle (1974), Hare's first play to open in the West End (London's equivalent of Broadway), premiered; it received the 1974 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was designated by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the best political plays of the new generation of writers. Also in 1974, Hare, together with playwright David Aukin and director Max Stafford-Clark, founded the Joint Stock Theatre Group, a company dedicated to uniting actors, writers, and directors in a spirit of creativity. One of Joint Stock's first productions was Fanshen (1975), which Hare adapted from a book by William Hinton. This play was followed by the televised production of Brassneck (1973), which Hare co-wrote with Brenton. Plenty (1978), Hare's breakthrough success in the United States, was performed in New York for the first time in 1982. In 1984, Hare began his long association with the National Theatre in London. In his third decade as a playwright, Hare released a trilogy on British institutions: Racing Demon (1990), Murmuring Judges (1991), and The Absence of War (1993). Following the spring Broadway opening of The Judas Kiss (1998), the 1998-99 Broadway theater season saw Hare accomplish the rare feat of opening three plays during the same season: The Blue Room (1998), Amy's View (1998), and Via Dolorosa (1998).
Hare's writings consistently consider moral, ethical, and political issues. His first drama, How Brophy Made Good, offers a satirical look at the corruption that visits a left-wing intellectual after he finds success as a television personality. Slag (“gals” spelled backward), his next play, focuses on three female teachers at an English public school who challenge the institution's traditions and leadership to no avail. Through the decline of the school, Hare sought to represent the disintegration of British society. Inspired by the 1964 Labour government's failure to honor its campaign promises, The Great Exhibition (1972) explores the British political system. The play centers on a shallow politician who has been expelled from Parliament and subsequently spends his time exposing himself in a park. Knuckle, a parody of the thriller genre, involves an arms dealer investigating the disappearance of his sister. The drama explores the corruption of individuals by materialism and violence. Hare was inspired to write Plenty after reading M. R. D. Foot's book about Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents working behind enemy lines during World War II. The resulting play depicts the decline of a young woman, Susan Traherne, after she returns home from her work as an SOE agent. Disappointed by life in postwar Britain (“plenty” refers to the prosperity envisioned after the war), Susan suffers emotionally and wreaks havoc on the lives of those around her. The Secret Rapture (1988) describes the relationship between two sisters, a junior Tory Minister and a small-business owner. Following the death of their father, the latter sister is taken advantage of by her family, who strip her of her business. Hare's next drama, Racing Demon, begins a trilogy continued with Murmuring Judges and The Absence of War. The trilogy examines the deterioration of three British institutions—the Church of England, England's criminal justice system, and the Labour Party, respectively. In Racing Demon, the Reverend Lionel Espy, leader of an inner-city team ministry, faces removal by his bishop in favor of a less-liberal, more-evangelical priest. Murmuring Judges focuses on Gerard, a resident of Belfast who becomes a criminal in an effort to support his family. When Gerard is arrested on his first job, his accomplices are threatened with being framed by a detective on a drug charge. Taking as its starting point the Labour Party's loss of the 1992 election, The Absence of War, in turn, examines a desperate Labour election campaign. The party's leader, George Jones, however, is straitjacketed from presenting the qualities needed to win the election by the very image of reserved respectability that he has carefully built up. Hare published his research notes and behind-the-scenes interviews for the trilogy in Asking Around (1993). Hare's next play, Skylight (1995), contrasts self-interest and social commitment through the relationship of a wealthy restaurant owner and his former mistress, a schoolteacher, whom he pursues anew after the death of his wife. The Blue Room, one of the three Hare plays to open on Broadway during the 1998-99 season, is a loose adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde, and revolves around the relationships of five sets of lovers. Amy's View depicts the decline of a theater star just as her daughter's vulgar husband finds success as a movie director. Taking the stage for the first time in decades, Hare himself performed in Via Dolorosa, a monologue in which the playwright considers the numerous contradictions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition to these works, Hare has adapted plays by Bertolt Brecht and Anton Chekhov and written screenplays for several films, including Paris By Night (1988), Strapless (1989), and Damage (1992). Hare has also published several prose works, including the essay collection Writing Left-Handed (1991) and the memoir Acting Up (1999).
In a career spanning more than three decades, Hare has consistently managed to elicit the attention of critics due to the strong political and moral content of his plays and his great skill as a dramatist. During the 1990s, he firmly established himself as a dominant presence in contemporary British and American theater with a series of critical and commercial successes. Hare came to the attention of American audiences and critics with Plenty. In London, initial reviews of the play were mixed, but the play gradually began to capture the enthusiasm of audiences, a circumstance that Hare attributed to Kate Nelligan's performance in the leading role. Virtually every critic had something positive to say about Plenty when it moved to New York four years later, where it received a Tony award nomination for best play and a New York Drama Critics Circle award for best foreign play. With The Secret Rapture, Hare was credited with bringing political discussion to the more intimate level of familial relationships. While the play was cited as being the author's most personal work to date, it was also criticized as melodramatic. Writing to the New York Times, Hare took the unusual step (although not the first time for him) of addressing one of his detractors, the drama critic Frank Rich. Both playwright and critic voiced their opinions in several contributions to the Times. The dramas of Hare's British-institution trilogy—Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War—project Hare's power as a playwright to varying degrees of effectiveness. Critics generally agree that Racing Demon is the most successful of the trilogy, citing its humor and its craftsmanship, while Murmuring Judges is regarded as the least effective. The three plays that Hare opened on Broadway during the 1998-99 season also achieved widely different levels of success. Although audiences flocked to see The Blue Room (largely due to the publicity generated around a brief nude scene involving actress Nicole Kidman), it was the least popular with critics, who tended to feel that Hare was unable to draw enough humanity out of Schnitzler's work. While reviewers were more divided in their opinions of Via Dolorosa, critics overall found Amy's View convincing in its complex portrayal of conflicted individuals. When none of the these plays received a Tony Award nomination, a controversy arose on Broadway. In recognition of this neglect, the New York Drama Critics Circle presented Hare with a special award for his contributions to the theatrical season.
How Brophy Made Good (drama) 1969
Slag (drama) 1970
What Happened to Blake (drama) 1970
The Great Exhibition (drama) 1972
Brassneck [with Howard Brenton] (drama) 1973
Knuckle (drama) 1974
Fanshen [adapted from William Hinton's book Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village] (drama) 1975
Teeth ‘n’ Smiles (drama) 1975
Licking Hitler (drama) 1978
Plenty (drama) 1978
Dreams of Leaving (screenplay) 1980
A Map of the World (drama) 1982
The History Plays [contains Knuckle,Licking Hitler, and a revised version of Plenty] (drama) 1984
Pravda: A Fleet Street Comedy [with Howard Brenton] (drama) 1985
Wetherby (screenplay) 1985
The Asian Plays [contains Fanshen,Saigon: Year of the Cat, and a revised version of A Map of the World] (drama) 1986
The Bay at Nice and Wrecked Eggs (drama) 1986
Paris By Night (screenplay) 1988
The Secret Rapture (drama) 1988
Strapless (screenplay) 1989
Racing Demon (drama)...
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SOURCE: “Fatal Fantasies,” in New Statesman & Society, June 9, 1989, pp. 43-4.
[In the following unfavorable review of Paris by Night, Moore discusses Hare's portrayal of right-wing women and sexual difference.]
Democracy works in mysterious ways. So mysterious in fact that in the week that we are supposed to elect our EuroMPs, most of us don’t have a clue about which of this faceless bunch of bureaucrats is supposed to represent us. But if my EuroMP looked like Charlotte Rampling I think I’d remember her.
In David Hare’s new film Paris by Night she plays such a creature. As Clara Paige, up and coming darling of the right, she is an ambitious EuroMP who appears to have it all. Her political philosophy is as immaculate as her clothes. Her image is of a successful Tory career woman, a woman who instinctively knows about hard work, ambition and the need for order.
Typically the price of her brilliant career—even in the work of a right-on dramatist such as Hare—is a messy private life. Apart from a hopeless alcoholic husband, Gerald (the wonderful Michael Gambon), Clara is plagued by anonymous telephone calls. In the middle of the night, a male voice breathes down the line, “I know who you are. I know what you’re doing.” Could this be Michael Swanton, a one-time business partner ruined by Gerald, who is trying to blackmail her? Or...
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SOURCE: “Faulty Families,” in Commonweal, December 1, 1989, pp. 671, 676.
[In the following review, Weales discusses the problematic portrayal of the female protagonist in The Secret Rapture.]
The sound of shotguns can be heard offstage during the final scene of the first act of David Hare’s The Secret Rapture playing at the Barrymore Theatre in New York. When one of the characters grumbles that he had forgotten that country-house England spent its weekends slaughtering innocent animals, his remarks are more than an explanation of the sounds for the audience. The grumbler is a young artist who has just helped sacrifice his company and his boss—Isobel, the woman he loves—to money interests who will destroy the integrity of their design firm by smothering it in the platitudes of financial growth. He may not like to think so, but he has thus allied himself with the weekend hunters, as Isobel, the play’s protagonist, makes clear with the first-act curtain line. “The guns are getting nearer.” Add that the engulfing interests are represented by Isobel’s sister and her brother-in-law, and it becomes clear that The Secret Rapture is another mixture of the psychological and the political, recalling earlier Hare plays like Knuckle (1974), Plenty (1978), and A Map of the World (1983).
There is often a difficulty with Hare heroines. For example,...
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SOURCE: “Women in Crisis,” in New Leader, January 8, 1990, pp. 22-3.
[In the following excerpt, Morrone offers an unfavorable assessment of Strapless, finding fault with the film's casting and characterizations.]
Four films concerning women that were presented at this fall’s New York Film Festival are now scheduled for general release. …
Strapless is playwright David Hare’s first film as writer-director to be shown in this country since Wetherby in 1985. The two films are so much alike, however, that you could call the new offering a clone of the earlier one.
Heroine Lillian (Blair Brown) is an American doctor who practices in London because she admires the orderliness of the Socialist medical system. A highly accomplished diagnostician, her respect for facts and procedures masks her dislike of emotionalism—she tends bodies with all the severity that Vanessa Redgrave’s schoolteacher educated minds in Wetherby. Indeed, Lillian’s hospital not only corresponds to Redgrave’s classroom, but the elusive, dishonest lover who enters her life also serves the same purpose as the suicidal visitor to Wetherby. In both movies Hare poises his self-possessed protagonist on the brink of a shocking disruption in her life.
Lillian’s troubles begin when she meets Raymond (Bruno Ganz) in a Portuguese church while on...
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SOURCE: “Pastoral Problems,” in Times Literary Supplement, February 16, 1990, p. 172.
[In the following review, Hebblethwaite offers a positive assessment of Racing Demon.]
God is not mocked, but the Church of England very frequently is. Its demise has often been confidently predicted. David Hare’s play [Racing Demon] presents an inner-city team ministry, across from Westminster, in a way that manages to be compassionate, unsparing and very funny.
This is where the real pastoral work is done. But if the idea is to fill the churches, it doesn’t succeed. Less than 1 per cent of Anglicans attend church on Sundays. The Reverend Lionel Espy, leader of the team, has the kind of resigned cheerfulness often found in such men. The silence of God begins to get him down. He defines a good priest as someone capable of soaking up anger without hitting back: the vicar as punch-bag. He doesn’t believe in cashing in on people’s misfortunes or ramming Jesus down their throats. You have to let people find Christ in their own way and their own time. To preach Christ at a bus-stop, as he once saw a black preacher doing, would be not him.
His Bishop, Southwark, a man of Catholic and dogmatic views, finds Lionel ineffectual. He has lost the old crowd, and there is no new crowd. For Southwark the job of a priest is to do the sacraments in such a way as to keep everyone...
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SOURCE: “Born Again,” in New Statesman & Society, February 23, 1990, p. 44.
[In the following review, Kennedy cites Hare's Racing Demon as original for its focus on the search for vocation in a vacuous England.]
Jesus is back. Thanks to the wholesale revival of evangelical Christianity in recent years Jesus has been re-established in the public consciousness as one serious dude: a Messiah who offered believers the ultimate deal—a sense of spiritual purpose in temporal life, followed by the guarantee of eternal life in the world hereafter. And as most born again Christians readily admit, the most beguiling aspect of their spiritual rebirth was the fact that it offered them such a profound sense of certainty. The certainty of having a saviour in whom they could place responsibility for the course of their lives. The certainty of having His unconditional love. And, of course, the certainty of being afforded non-stop post-mortem service to the Kingdom of God.
Granted, such spiritual security was not acquired by merely asking Jesus to become their Lord and saviour. They also had to “walk the Christian walk and talk the Christian talk”. Or, to put it another way, they had to attempt to be Christly.
But what exactly is Christliness? To a born again fundamentalist, Jesus’s doctrines—as revealed in the Gospels—must be obeyed to the...
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SOURCE: “Political Drama,” in Hudson Review, Vol. XLII, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 121-29.
[In the following excerpt, Hornby complains of Hare's confused politics and “bad aesthetics” in The Secret Rapture.]
David Hare is a playwright I wish I could like, but I can’t. There are far too few political playwrights in Britain or America these days; the smug conservatives who have run both countries for the past decade certainly need the challenge that Hare provides. As I am writing this, I can look out the window of my apartment and see a homeless person, sleeping or perhaps dead, lying under a few meager blankets to ward off the twenty-degree cold. In the past, there would have been popular dramatists like Brecht or Shaw, or Odets or Miller, to denounce this outrage, to make this person visible and human for us and our leaders. Instead, most playwrights today (especially those performed on Broadway) concern themselves with the personal angst of middle-class characters—Will Heidi get married? Will Johnny land a role in the new musical? Will father agree to go into a nursing home? The social background to these problems remains just that, a background, while politics do not exist.
Hare is a British writer whose plays, by contrast, are in the sociopolitical tradition of Brecht and Shaw. Hare’s latest, The Secret Rapture, is literally about a politician. One of the principal...
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SOURCE: “Changes,” in New Republic, May 28, 1990, pp. 24-5.
[In the following review, Kauffmann argues that Hare's dramatic works have taken a change for the worse, especially as evident in Strapless.]
David Hare is going to the bad, which in his case means going to the good. Until recently, most of the work of this English playwright and screenwriter has been sharp, mordant, quietly outraged, intent on dramatizing laconically the compromises and hypocrisies of our time. Such plays as Slag and Plenty and Licking Hitler and A Map of the World, whatever their flaws, held Hare’s world to a rigorous grilling. He often directed his plays, with an imaginative terseness that matched his writing, and he directed his screenplay Wetherby in masterly fashion, a film that showed how a group of people were harrowed variously by a suicide in their midst. Up to now Hare’s very name has evoked an almost Pavlovian response: something by him would be terse, precisely written and directed, politically critical, socially angry.
This has changed. His last play to be seen here, The Secret Rapture, which starred the American actress Blair Brown, saluted the expected Hare qualities but had, for him, an unprecedented vein of pulpiness. His new film Strapless (Miramax), also starring Brown, nods once again to the past Hare, then ties up all its problems...
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SOURCE: “Saint Isobel: David Hare's The Secret Rapture as Christian Allegory,” in Modern Drama, Vol. XXXIII, No. 4, December, 1990, pp. 563-74.
[In the following essay, Golomb examines aspects of Christian religious parable in The Secret Rapture, particularly within the role of the female protagonist.]
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
In his latest play, The Secret Rapture, David Hare has given us a central character, Isobel, who is distinctly not of the world. Even her name, a variant of Elizabeth, has as one of its meanings “consecrated to God.”1 Dramatically, Hare took a great risk in centering his play on Isobel. She is weak, pliable and abused (a stark contrast to Hare’s usual headstrong women such as Susan in Plenty or Peggy in A Map of the World), yet in order for the climax to have any impact, we must feel that something has been accomplished by her destruction, not that she has been one of life’s doormats who deserves what she gets. If Isobel were merely a good woman who could not exist in a corrupt world the necessary sense of loss at her death might not be evoked, but Hare has raised her to the level of saint and martyr....
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SOURCE: “In the Air,” in New Statesman & Society, June 21, 1991, p. 45.
[In the following review, Wu admires the traditional dramatic ideas of Writing Left-Handed.]
David Hare’s introduction to this collection of prose pieces written since 1978 is characteristically apologetic: “I am more at ease working through invented characters,” he admits. Writing Left-Handed is distinguished by its author’s fearless, and sometimes painful, desire to own up. In his student days, he was a “precocious and shallow young man”; discussing his relationship with his theatre audiences he admits that “it is our fault, not theirs, if we do not reach them with the things we have to say”; and the final essay confesses that: “I could not save my own life by plausibly acting one single scene.” Other pieces describe the various humiliations suffered by “one who is at home with risk. It makes me unafraid of being passionate.”
This commitment to emotional honesty goes back to Hare’s time as literary manager at the Royal Court Theatre during the late 1960s. There, he tells us, he shared the contempt felt by the Court’s mandarins for a literary establishment “which was frightened of feeling”. He dislikes plays that reduce their characters “to their so-called points of view”, and commends the ability of great drama in which ideas are given “voluptuous...
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SOURCE: “Turning to Crime,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 1991, p. 17.
[In the following review, Papineau calls Murmuring Judges mere “easy entertainment.”]
Few things are more unacceptable than the long-term imprisonment of an innocent person. Yet the British criminal justice system seems to find these hideous mistakes easy to make and almost impossible to correct. Under pressure to secure convictions, the police are tempted to concoct cases out of bogus confessions and forged evidence. And, even after the error becomes clear, the victims can languish for years in gaol, because the judicial system has no effective safeguard against police corruption.
The advance publicity for David Hare’s new play, Murmuring Judges, may have led theatregoers to expect some engagement with the implications of such miscarriages of justice: if so, they will be disappointed. Far from offering an analysis of the unhappy symbiosis between imaginative policemen and unimaginative judges, Hare gives us a toothless tale with all the bite of a 1950s police film starring Jack Warner.
The plot of Murmuring Judges centres on Gerard, a likeable chump from Belfast who turns to crime to support his family and handicapped child. He is arrested on his first job, and goes to prison along with his more experienced accomplices. Later, it turns out that the...
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SOURCE: “Murmurs of Dissent,” in New Statesman & Society, October 25, 1991, pp. 31-2.
[In the following excerpt, Lavender compares the work of Arthur Miller and Hare, and offers praise for the Greek influence apparent in Murmuring Judges.]
The love affair between Arthur Miller and Britain has been a long one. Recent years have seen major productions here of After the Fall, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge and Two-Way Mirror, while in turn Miller has made clear his respect for the “creative relaxation” of the British theatre scene. To prove it, his latest play, The Ride Down Mt Morgan, had its world premiere this week at Wyndham’s Theatre.
The timing allows comparison with an English playwright also held in high favour, who treads similar ethical territory. David Hare’s Murmuring Judges, the second in a proposed trilogy about British institutions, has just opened at the National Theatre. Both playwrights have shifted with the times. …
There is plenty of rage, on the other hand, in David Hare’s Murmuring Judges. This is a pleasant surprise, for there were signs that, after a wolfish start, Hare’s drama might become a sheep in designer clothing. Certainly he, of all the angry young socialists of the 1970s, most successfully negotiated the past few years, with a polished naturalism so fair that you felt you could...
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SOURCE: A review of Damage, in Times Literary Supplement, February 12, 1993, p. 17.
[In the following review, Lezard offers an unfavorable assessment of the film Damage. ]
On paper, the film Damage has everything going for it: directed by Louis Malle, starring Jeremy Irons and Miranda Richardson, screenplay by David Hare, based on a trashy novel by Josephine Hart. What could, possibly go wrong? And yet, as it turns out, Malle has produced something that at times is worse than his source material.
The plot of Damage is simple. Stephen Fleming, a doctor-turned-politician (Jeremy Irons) meets, and instantly falls for, Anna Barton, his son’s fiancée (Juliette Binoche). She falls for him. They have not so much an affair as a succession of steamy liaisons, the last of which Fleming’s son Martyn (Rupert Graves) bursts in on; shocked, he falls down a stairwell and dies. Fleming Senior resigns, his wife leaves him, he goes off to live in some Mediterranean hideaway. The End. Hart’s novel tries to give this story depth by means of unlikely dialogue and wildly portentous prose. If ever there was a book you wanted a screenwriter to take liberties with, this was it.
Unfortunately, the film just cruises by on automatic. Whereas Hart’s novel, for better or for worse, and usually for worse, tried to give the characters some history and context, the film...
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SOURCE: “A Small Party,” in New Statesman & Society, October 8, 1993, pp. 28-9.
[In the following review, Milne views The Absence of War as less interesting than the earlier two plays in Hare's trilogy.]
Once upon a time, there was a Labour leader who lost. He had one chance to win an election, and he lost. In private, this leader was warm and witty, a man of culture and integrity. In public, he was a windbag with a shaky grasp of policy. TV interviewers tripped him up. Shadow cabinet colleagues put him down. Rumour had it that he wasn’t up to the job.
Staff in the leader’s private office shielded, chivvied and cosseted him. They lived in a state of perpetual vigilance, poised to preempt potential gaffes. The man who should have been his party’s greatest asset was treated as its greatest liability.
Old hands have rushed to condemn The Absence of War, David Hare’s portrayal of a panicky Labour election campaign. They might pause to consider the implied compliment when a writer accords Labour the status of a great British institution. The Absence of War completes a trilogy that brackets Her Majesty’s loyal opposition with the Church of England (Racing Demon) and the criminal justice system (Murmuring Judges). Eminent stablemates for an upstart that did not see the light of day until 1906.
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SOURCE: “Holding the Mirror up to Nature,” in Spectator, November 6, 1993, pp. 53-4.
[In the following review, Wheen criticizes Hare's Asking Around for merely being the notes and “workings” of real-life politics.]
In the days before pocket calculators and computers, pupils sitting maths exam papers would be requested to ‘show your workings’. David Hare has now shown us his, by publishing the notes he took while researching his State of the Nation trilogy for the National Theatre. For Racing Demon, a play about the Church of England, he visited the General Synod and inner-city vicarages; for Murmuring Judges, he spoke to police officers, lawyers and prison governors. His notes on all this are quite interesting, but not quite interesting enough, since they cover ground that has already been well-trodden by many a journalist and sociologist. Anyone who wants to know what the police have to say for themselves, for instance, would be better advised to read Roger Graef’s book Talking Blues.
In the third section of Asking Around, however, Hare delivers a scoop. During last year’s general election Neil Kinnock ‘offered me access even beyond that I had asked for’, in effect handing him an unrestricted backstage pass. Watching the Fourth Estate in action at the start of the campaign, Hare ‘found myself envying journalists their...
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SOURCE: “Rare Hare, Liking Women,” in David Hare: A Casebook, edited by Hersh Zeifman, Garland Publishing, 1994, pp. 23-43.
[In the following essay, Cohn examines the portrayal of women in Hare's dramas and films, noting the strengths and weaknesses of the female characters in light of harsh feminist criticism of Hare's work.]
“Raymond loved women. … It’s very rare,” says a wise woman in Strapless (70), and one might extend the statement to embrace the author/director of that film, David Hare. More than any other living male dramatist, Hare has given voice to women—on stage, film, and television. With that introduction, I sound as though I am setting Hare up only to knock him down, in a predictable feminist fashion.1 Hare’s treatment of women characters is not, however, invariant, and I hope to unveil its nuances.
A graduate of public school and Cambridge University, Hare has drawn most of his characters—female and male—from his own middle class. More often than not, Hare’s men accommodate to their privileged position in an immoral society—usually in England—but his women are less complacent. From the schoolteachers of Slag (1970) to the black barrister of Murmuring Judges (1991), Hare’s women tend to fit badly into a bad society, and a few of his heroines “struggle … against a deceitful and emotionally stultified...
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SOURCE: “Playwright of Popular Dissent: David Hare and the Trilogy,” in David Hare: A Casebook, edited by Hersh Zeifman, Garland Publishing, 1994, pp. 217-35
[In the following essay, Glenn provides an overview of the political themes, staging, and critical reception of Hare's trilogy—Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War.]
As one of Britain’s most successful playwright-polemicists, David Hare has been lauded for his ability to attract largely mainstream, middle-class audiences to productions that often tear at the very fabric of bourgeois English life. For the last fifteen years he has been assisted in his efforts by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, where he is an associate director: since 1978, Hare has launched nine plays from the National’s three stages, including Plenty, A Map of the World, Pravda (written with Howard Brenton), The Bay at Nice and Wrecked Eggs, and The Secret Rapture. His most ambitious work to date, however, involves not just one play but an entire trilogy examining British institutions. What Hare and Brenton began with their 1985 satire of the Fleet Street press, Pravda, has been continued in the halls of Britain’s National Theatre with Hare’s solo efforts: Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War. The plays examine the Church of England, the British...
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SOURCE: “Big Names and Prize Winners,” in North American Review, Vol. 279, No. 1, January-February, 1994, pp. 14-9.
[In the following review, King offers a positive evaluation of Hare's trilogy—Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges, and The Absence of War.]
Throughout his prolific career as author of stage, screen and television plays, David Hare, an avowed secularist, has dramatized characters making moral choices in an amoral world. The characters are not always morally aware, much less sensitive to the values that their words evoke and their actions create, but Hare surely is. He deliberately displays people in ambiguous situations in Plenty (1978), asks the audience “to make up its own mind” and to “learn something about its own values.” In the film Wetherby, a suicide laments the loss of the “good old words” that had “a sort of conviction which all this modern apparatus of language now lacks.” In most of his works and in various ways, Hare dramatizes that loss without indulging in sentimentality or nostalgia. To him, language—for all its elusiveness—remains our only common means to suggest aspirations for a better life; when it falls short of the values we proclaim, its ironies, ambiguities and deceptions pervade and sometimes infect all of society. Hare addressed his own society directly in his recently completed trilogy on British institutions; at the...
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SOURCE: “Courage and Compromise,” in New Statesman & Society, February 25, 1994, pp. 35-6.
[In the following review, Lavender favorably assesses Hare's adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's play Galileo.]
“It is treason to use Brecht without criticising him,” the east German writer Heiner Müller once said. The very business of making a version of somebody else’s play constitutes an act of criticism. It’s perhaps surprising, then, that in his version of Brecht’s The Life of Galileo at the Almeida Theatre, David Hare has treated the original with such sensitivity (not that the Brecht estate would allow anybody to do a Brecht on Brecht). Perhaps it’s doubly surprising, given the comments Hare made about Brecht in his book Writing Left-Handed, where he accused the German of doctrinaire tediousness.
Many have shared that opinion, which helps explain why the history of Brecht’s plays in Britain is so vexed. Ever since the Berliner Ensemble’s famous visit to London in 1956, directors have fought variously to make the plays more or less “Brechtian”, according to personal valuation of the term. Most recently, the National Theatre presented an Arturo Ui that seemed bombastic rather than brutal. This tendency was exaggerated in the RSC’s 1984 production of Mother Courage, resplendent with plentiful dry ice and a wagon moved by a motor. The big...
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SOURCE: “Romancing the Political,” in New Statesman & Society, May 12, 1995, pp. 32-3.
[In the following review, Jays describes Skylight as “obvious and inconsistent.”]
I love my love with an S, because it is secret. It feeds on silence and its name is Skylight.
What do you tell about your love? Does your heart trumpet emotions, hallooing to the reverberate hills? Or do you nestle your love close, keep it hushed? Pre-publicity for David Hare’s new play was coy about the subject matter. Unlike his recent trilogy for the National Theatre, a weave of leader-column debates on church, law and government, Skylight slips into the National in shades and a headscarf, head down, lips sealed. Skylight, you see, is a love story.
For six years, Kyra and Tom were lovers. They were 20 years apart in age, he a married restaurateur-entrepreneur, her boss. She split when his wife Alice found out: Alice has died and, in the depths of winter, Tom comes to Kyra, now a teacher, to win her back. The past stands between them, cluttering the atmosphere as much as the books, pans and spider plants of her cramped north London flat. Romance is a genre framed to look back—to times when things were better, easier, to accepted truths and direct emotions. Kyra admits she only watches old movies. “Those you like because they’re romantic,” Tom suggests....
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SOURCE: “Haggle with Mother,” in Times Literary Supplement, November 24, 1995, p. 21.
[In the following review, O'Connor offers a tempered evaluation of Hare's adaptation of Bertolt Brecht's play Mother Courage and Her Children.]
What a long road it seems, since the first National Theatre production of Brecht’s Mother Courage, thirty years ago at the Old Vic, when Kenneth Tynan had to bargain with the Lord Chamberlain’s office over W. H. Auden’s use of the word “balls” in his translation of one of the songs. David Hare’s “new version” of [Mother Courage and Her Children,] is liberal in its use of colloquialisms. As a foreword to his introduction to the published text, Hare quotes Ruth Berlau’s opinion that if it keeps too close to the original, the translation will not be good: “They try to copy the play in their own language. They want to be as faithful as possible—and then nothing comes of it.” Perhaps the greatest difficulty facing the translator and adaptor of Brecht’s plays and poetry is to find an equivalent for his humour. At this first night, there was a good deal of laughter, so on that level the version can be said to succeed.
Although Hare has not altered the shape of the play, or the order of the scenes, by using very modern English idiomatic phrases—“I told him to stuff his rotten inn”, “market forces”, “I’ll smash...
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SOURCE: “Hare's Breadth,” in New York, December 4, 1995, pp. 134, 136.
[In the following review, Simon praises the direction, writing, and acting in Racing Demon.]
Lincoln Center Theater finally has a winner in Racing Demon. If the late, unlamented Sacrilege showed us how not to write a controversial play about church and religion, David Hare’s Shavian spellbinder is an exemplary how-to. For this internecine combat of contrasting Christianities in the arena of the Church of England is as riveting as a boxing match and as intellectually stimulating as an Oxford Union debate. Also theater so damned good that Hare in the hereafter will be consigned to hell, where—as we hear—conversation is infinitely livelier than in the other place. There are four artfully interwoven problems: What to do about a clergyman whose socialist leanings and religious doubts make him a potential liability? What to do about another ecclesiastic, whom a yellow journalist exposes as a homosexual? What to do about a marriage wherein the pastoral displaces the connubial? And above all, how to handle a driven, lower-class curate whose demonic zeal proves as ruinous to the public-school coziness of his fellow churchmen as to the love a spirited and sensible young woman bears him? The play has humor, suspense, exuberance, and pathos; though placed in an Anglican framework, it is more pope’s nose than...
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SOURCE: “Transmitting the Bildungsroman to the Small Screen: David Hare's Dreams of Leaving and Heading Home,” in Literature/Film Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1996, pp. 92-8.
[In the following essay, DeVinney examines elements of bildungsroman and individual states of social and political consciousness in the television versions of Dreams of Leaving and Heading Home.]
David Hare and his play writing colleagues, weaned on 1960s British university radicalism, have continued the expression of chronic social discontent begun so scathingly by John Osborne’s 1956 play Look Back in Anger. But in an effort to spread their message to a broader audience, these writers have been working increasingly in the mechanical media. The primary distinguishing characteristic of Hare’s films and plays lies in his insistence on linking political and ethical decline to his characters’ personal lives. To understand how Hare accomplishes this connection onscreen, it is necessary to look closely at his habit of placing his characters in recognizable genres; they operate as psychologically-rounded people and as types. The nostalgia inherent in using established genres—and often American ones at that—is a sign both of Hare’s willingness to break from the leftist pack and of his increasing frustration with the ineffectiveness of sixties-style radicalism in the face of England’s political...
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SOURCE: “A Moral Affair,” in New Yorker, September 30, 1996, pp. 95-6.
[In the following review, Lahr offers a tempered evaluation of Skylight, which he views as an unsatisfying compromise between “conscience and comfort.”]
David Hare has been one of the most visible bricks in the imposing wall of British theatre since he broke through, in 1970, with Slag. His jeremiads about the collapsing state of England and his rants about social justice have been delivered in such varied and successful plays as Plenty (1978), an attack on the corruption of the upper classes; Pravda (1985, with Howard Brenton), an attack on the tabloid press; Racing Demon (1990), to my mind his best play, which attacked the entropy of the Anglican Church: and, most recently, the award-winning Skylight—currently at the Royale Theatre, on Broadway, for a limited engagement—which attacks just about everything else. Here Hare’s invective (“I’m tired of these right-wing fuckers,” one excellent tirade begins) makes him, as Michael Billington, the critic for The Guardian, put it, “John Osborne’s natural heir.” (Hare himself says that Look Back in Anger “is the modern play I’d most like to have written.”) The comparison is wrong but relevant. Osborne was a reactionary brawler—reckless, bullying, as capable of the low blow as of the precision punch—who...
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SOURCE: “Hare Apparent,” in New York, October 7, 1996, p. 50.
[In the following review, Simon praises Skylight for being “open to multiple interpretations.”]
After World War II, new British playwrights burst forth like gangbusters. It was like a bicycle race, first a whole pack, then a peloton, and finally two cyclists out front: Tom Stoppard and now David Hare. With the others declining, drying up, or dead, the race remains to these two.
Hare came from behind. Slag, Knuckle, and Teeth ‘n’ Smiles showed great promise but had something slightly limiting about them. Other plays—Plenty, A Map of the World, Fanshen—were politicized to the verge of propaganda. Still, in Plenty and again in The Secret Rapture Hare was fighting his way through to making his characters as interesting as his ideas, albeit with uncertain results. But with Racing Demon and now Skylight, he has written first-rate drama in which the humanist concern for individuals and the socialist concern for the world do more than intertwine: They fuse.
Skylight is the story of Kyra Hollis, who as a young girl escaped her respectable but stodgy provincial background and started out as a waitress in a London restaurant, where she promptly caught the eye of the owner Tom Sergeant and his wife, Alice. Tom,...
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SOURCE: “Political Cartoons,” in New Leader, October 7-21, 1996, pp. 22-3.
[In the following review, Kanfer offers an adverse appraisal of Skylight, finding fault in the play's one-sided sociopolitical argument.]
David Hare’s villain never varies. Different guises may be assumed, but sooner or later the mask comes off to reveal the evildoer: Western capitalist society. Even in his early works the British playwright was the bard of political correctness, wagging a finger at a nation obsessed with money and dominated by white males. Lay By, written back in 1971, blamed pornography on the profit motive. Years later Hare took on the British Establishment segment by segment: the haughty upper crust (Plenty), the kept press of Fleet Street (Pravda), the hypocritical Church of England (Racing Demon).
In his latest, Skylight, at the Royale Theater, he heaves his bombs at the Thatcherites—and by extension the Majorites, and ultimately all those to the right of the Left. It is these climbers, in Hare’s judgment, who have displaced altruism and decency with wealth and power. This time the malefactor (that can also be read as male factor) is identified as Tom Sergeant (Michael Gambon). Change the last letter of Tom Sergeant’s first name from an “m” to a “p” and you have a fair idea of his character. Oversized, blustery, used to snapping...
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SOURCE: “Whose Faust Is It Anyway,” in The New Republic, November 18, 1996, pp. 28-30.
[In the following review, Brustein gives a negative evaluation of Skylight, though he praises the performance of Michael Gambon in the Royale Theatre production of the play.]
David Hare’s new play, Skylight (Royale Theatre), has the advantage of a really shattering performance by Michael Gambon, who at the present time may very well be the most powerful actor in the English-speaking world. You don’t care a whit that this hulking figure is somewhat miscast as a natty capitalist, or that he’s starring in a rather anemic play.
The argument between Gambon’s character, the middle-aged Tom Sergeant, and his considerably younger lover, Kyra Hollis (strongly performed by Lia Williams), echoes the debate Bernard Shaw concocted between the millionaire arms dealer Andrew Undershaft and his Salvation Army daughter, Major Barbara. Sergeant runs a group of hotels and restaurants, and passionately defends his accumulation of wealth, while the even more passionate Kyra defends her dedication to improving the minds of poorly educated kids.
Informing this conflict is the continuing tension between Thatcher’s Tory England and that of the Lib-Lab opposition. And it must be admitted that the playwright, despite his own liberal sympathies, doesn’t load the deck. “I’m...
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SOURCE: “Shakespeare for Smaller Forces,” in Times Literary Supplement, February 28, 1997, p. 18.
[In the following review, Reynolds praises Hare's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play Ivanov.]
The 1887 Moscow premiere of Ivanov, the first full-length play Chekhov completed, was famously shambolic. Actors taking the parts of drunks had prepared themselves so well that there was much unrehearsed upsetting of furniture. Chekhov had difficulty recognizing his own play, something compounded by the actor playing Shabyelski: “Kiselevsky, of whom I was hoping a lot, didn’t get one sentence right—literally not one. …” This débâcle may partly explain Chekhov’s later dismissals of Ivanov. His disparagement of his own play was matched by his scorn for most of the characters in it. The playwright, in his late twenties, looked down his nose at his thirty-five-year-old hero: “He hasn’t grown a decent moustache yet, and he’s already laying down the law.” The twenty-year-old Sasha who falls in love with Ivanov, or thinks she does, is equally inadequate: “she’s a spinster, not a girl.” By the time of the play’s successful revival in St Petersburg in 1889, Chekhov was claiming Ivanov was clearer in his correspondence than on the stage. “That’s because a quarter of his part has been cut. I’d gladly sacrifice half my success if they’d let me make the play twice as...
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SOURCE: “Nostalgic Rapture: Interpreting Moral Commitments in David Hare's Drama,” in Modern Drama, Vol. XL, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 23-37.
[In the following essay, Su examines Hare's sentimental vision of an idealized British past and its underlying function as a point of reference for interpreting contemporary political realities and moral conflicts.]
A deep, if problematic, nostalgia for the Great Britain of World War II suffuses the work of British playwright David Hare. Susan Traherne’s exuberant cry at the end of Plenty, “There will be days and days and days like this,” exemplifies Hare’s troubled nostalgia: the promise of social equality and national renewal with the war’s end presented as the final memory of a fragmenting psyche.1 Hare identifies himself both personally and artistically in terms of World War II: “I was born in 1947, and it makes me sad to think that mine may be the last generation to care about this extraordinary time in English history. … I must also, if I am honest, admit that the urge to write about it came … from a romantic feeling for the period.”2 Such a sentimental stance is interesting considering the importance Hare’s work places on political engagement in the present. Hare’s plays directly or indirectly examine how the post-war promise of “Plenty” did not materialize as the unity against Hitler during the war...
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SOURCE: “London in Love,” in New Yorker, July 21, 1997, pp. 78-9.
[In the following review, Lahr praises Amy's View.]
This summer, the English have seen two well-managed changings of the guard: the British withdrawal from Hong Kong and Sir Richard Eyre’s exodus as director of the Royal National Theatre. The fireworks Eyre has provided for his departure after his masterly nine-year stewardship include a revival of his first Royal National hit, Guys and Dolls, Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, opening in October, and David Hare’s new smash, Amy’s View, at the Lyttleton, which also ends Hare’s more than twenty-five-year association with that theatre. In this work, Hare forgoes his theatrical habit of making his characters speak for England and instead lets them speak for themselves. The play charts the struggle for separation between a famous actress, Esme Allen (the incomparable Judi Dench), and her dutiful daughter, Amy (the steely Samantha Bond), over a trajectory of sixteen years, from 1979 to 1995; the battle between self-aggrandizement and selflessness, which is at the center of so much of Hare’s writing, is worked out in a tale of considerable psychological complexity.
“Do you want me to help you?” Amy asks her handsome, moody boyfriend Dominic at the opening of the play. Amy, who is twenty-three, is a born caretaker. She, like all...
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SOURCE: “Tradition,” in North American Review, Vol. 282, No. 6, November-December, 1997, pp. 45-8.
[In the following review, King offers a positive assessment of Amy's View.]
The title character of David Hare’s latest play, Amy’s View, is the daughter of Esme Allen, a woman whose successful acting career has peaked when the London theater no longer offers actresses continuing, fulfilling work. Dominic is Amy’s lover in Act I (1979), husband in II (1985), betrayer in III (1993), and widower in IV (1995). He is a product and purveyor of popular culture, and by the play’s end he has directed a very successful, very violent film. In death, Amy remains a barrier between Dominic and Esme, neither of whom saw worth in the other’s work and could not subscribe to Amy’s view that loving people without question is the fundamental human value.
Over the play’s sixteen years, Dominic’s career flourishes as Esme’s declines. In off-stage action, he takes a younger woman as a mistress, “a brainless Heidi” to Amy, who is nonetheless willing to stay with her husband and children. Esme, who hates television in Act I, takes a part in an escapist series in III. Amy comes home for a visit in I and leaves her mother for good in III despite Esme’s pleading: “I beg you, Amy, please stay.” But Amy’s final view is harsh: “I went with Dominic because he was the future....
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SOURCE: “A Short History of Abdication,” in New Yorker, December 1, 1997, pp. 94-5.
[In the following review, Lahr offers a commendatory estimation of Hare's adaptation of Anton Chekhov's play Ivanov.]
As the lights come up on David Hare’s crisp adaptation of Ivanov (at the Vivian Beaumont), which Chekhov wrote in 1887 at the age of twenty-seven, we can make out the inevitable Russian birch trees and the inevitable murk of the Russian vastness. The landscape, which enforced a special quality of brutalizing boredom and agitation in provincial nineteenth-century life, is the backdrop—and perhaps even the shaping power—for what Chekhov saw as a defining national trait. “Russian excitability has one specific quality: it is quickly followed by fatigue,” he wrote to his friend and publisher Suvorin. “A man has hardly jumped off the school bench when he takes up, at fever heat, a burden above his strength: he takes on at once schools, the peasants, scientific farming … makes speeches, writes to Ministers, combats evil, applauds the good, falls in love. … But he has hardly reached thirty or thirty-five when he begins to feel fatigue and boredom.” Ivanov, an educated nobleman whose surname, like “Smith” in English, signifies the prototypical, is one such burnt-out case: a progressive farmer, a regional counsellor, a disenchanted husband of a tubercular wife, and a sensational...
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SOURCE: “Theatrical Inaction,” in New Statesman, March 27, 1998, p. 43.
[In the following review, Kellaway offers a favorable valuation of The Judas Kiss.]
David Hare’s superb new play The Judas Kiss is about love that disdains reason. Oscar Wilde must have known, on some level, that Lord Alfred Douglas—Bosie—was unkind, self-pitying and talentless. So why did he persist with his abject love? Was Wilde heroic or cussed? And what was it, exactly, that he found to love in Bosie? Beauty seems—in Hare’s imagined version—to have been only part of the answer.
The first act of The Judas Kiss takes place in 1895 in a bedroom in the Cadogan Hotel in London on the day of Wilde’s arrest. Bob Crowley’s set is ravishing; he has excelled himself with a room of pale green silk, printed with faded dragons and furnished with elegant gilded tables—a perfect place for champagne and rest. But Wilde has other reasons for wishing to stay in it. With his persecutors closing in on him and the possibility of prison ahead, he has no intention of escaping. “Action is something my mother brought me up to distrust. Why make a decision which does not yet need to be made? What’s more, think of this: I am where I wish to be.”
Hare succeeds, remarkably, in making Wilde’s inaction theatrical. And Richard Eyre’s production is poetic: the two acts exquisitely...
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SOURCE: “Ireland Your Ireland,” in Hudson Review, Vol. LI, No. 3, Autumn, 1998, pp. 561-67.
[In the following excerpt, Hornby offers a detrimental estimation of The Judas Kiss.]
The plays and film about Oscar Wilde that have come out lately all stress his role as gay martyr. Since he got two years in a brutal Victorian prison merely for acts performed with consenting adults, also losing his home, career, income, and contact with his wife and children, Wilde would certainly qualify for that description. Nonetheless, the interesting thing is that Wilde did not think of himself as being homosexual. The best of the many books that have come out on Wilde in this decade, Alan Sinfield’s The Wilde Century, convincingly argues that the very concept of the existence of a special category of human beings with an innate attraction to their own sex was unknown until the 1860s, and not widely known until after Wilde’s trials in 1895. Of course, homosexual acts were identified, being prohibited both in the Bible and in law, but not homosexual people. In conversation with Frank Harris after the trials, Wilde blamed his homosexual behavior not on his inner nature, but on his wife’s pregnancies, which made her unappealing.
The best thing about the recent film Wilde, starring the superb Stephen Fry, is that it shows Wilde as a kind and loving husband and father, who...
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SOURCE: “Hare's Breadth,” in New Statesman, September 18, 1998, pp. 38-9.
[In the following review, Kellaway offers an affirmative evaluation of Via Dolorosa.]
When David Hare walked on stage on the first night of Via Dolorosa, his nerves were apparent, his voice putting a false emphasis on words. He is not an actor and this made him seem more exposed. He was like someone hanging on hard to roots on a slippery hill, determined not to fall. His gestures were asking for help. But Hare has been expertly directed by Stephen Daldry, and his fear eased as his story got underway. His own emotion and lack of actorly gloss added to the integrity, the extraordinary atmosphere of Via Dolorosa.
It is a piece about which Hare has every reason to be nervous. He has bravely elected to share his thoughts on the apparently insoluble conflicts in the Middle East and enlists us as his companions on his travels through Israel and Palestine. He is at pains not to appoint himself as an expert. He would rather be seen as a vessel filled to overflowing: he records what he sees and hears and when his mind spins, he tells us why it does. He is, he says, only “a pen”. But this is not a lecture, and he is much more than a pen. This is invigorating, theatrical journalism. I saw no furtive watch-checkers, heard no clearings of throats. The audience seemed not to stir for 90 minutes....
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SOURCE: “Is He Himself?,” in Times Literary Supplement, September 18, 1998, p. 25.
[In the following review of Via Dolorosa, Newey finds Hare's stage persona as writer, actor, and moralist confusing.]
Early in his new play about Israel, Sir David Hare quotes a remark by his friend David Grossman on the spirit of place. “I have some sort of mineral reaction to the place I don’t get anywhere else in the world. Just to breathe the air makes me feel happy.” Which place? The Heath—Hampstead Heath, to be precise. For Grossman, its appeal is as the Heimat of secular, if not rootless, cosmopolitanism, on a North Sea roof where not much happens, and no one gets excited about much. And of course, above all, the Heath is common land. This doubtless comes as welcome relief when the lived norm is territorial haggle, down to the very pebble used by the boy David to brain Goliath.
Hare himself strikes a less affirmative note than Grossman: “Playwrights are drawn to places without quite knowing why.” Early on in Via Dolorosa—a monologue performed by the author—he tells us that “I realize, almost without noticing, that for some time my subject as a playwright has been faith.” He admits to being attracted by G. K. Chesterton’s Tertullianesque remark that the Jesus tales are so improbable that they must be true. In a talk to a company rehearsing his last...
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SOURCE: “Tangled up in Blue,” in New Statesman, October 2, 1998, pp. 34-5.
[In the following review, Kellaway presents a disapproving estimation of The Blue Room.]
The blue room announces itself in red neon. Yves Klein could have dreamt up the set (Mark Thompson was, in fact, responsible). The light is so blue it can make a scarlet chair its own. It appropriates man and woman in intense weather and a persistent mood indigo. A girl (Nicole Kidman) in a leather coat walks on stage carrying a cheap, pea-green handbag. She is soliciting a boorish cab driver (Iain Glen) in the first scene of this dance of desire, Hare’s fast-and-loose interpretation of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1920s classic La Ronde. It is a play that Schnitzler regarded as “unprintable”, and the task faced by Hare and director Sam Mendes has been to make it performable.
Virginia Woolf complained, after a private performance of the play in Bloomsbury, that “the audience felt simply as if a real copulation were going on in the room and tried to talk to drown the very realistic groans made by Partridge!” In this production, Virginia Woolf would not have been discomfited by audible groans. In each scene, a black-out and a curdled soundtrack mark the various couples’ copulation. A screen keeps score of how long each couple has made out together (zero at worst, over two hours at best). It is an amusing, if...
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SOURCE: “Ancient and Modern,” in New Yorker, December 28, 1998-January 4, 1999, pp. 135-37.
[In the following excerpt, Lahr assesses Hare's The Blue Room as unsufferable and dispassionate.]
As the world knows, the film star Nicole Kidman is in a play—David Hare’s “freely adapted” version of Arthur Schnitzler’s sexual Viennese merry-go-round “La Ronde” (1900), whose ten dialogues have been remarketed in a down-and-dirty package as The Blue Room, at the Cort. Kidman is beautiful, leggy, and damn good at her job. She and her excellent co-star, Iain Glen, have real chemistry, and, indeed, it takes all their charisma to give the cardboard characters and the charmless script here an iota of life. Together, they act out a series of sad seductions, with Kidman being rogered every which way, including up; the duration of each sexual bout is flashed on the back wall, as though it were a scoreboard. It’s vulgar touch—one in keeping with the winded sensationalism of Sam Mendes’s production, which would make voyeurs of us all. Hare has followed Schnitzler’s game plan, so the shallowness of the characters is not entirely his fault; his contribution is the brittle dialogue, which makes the play all the more insufferable. An eighteen-nineties sense of sin has been replaced by a nineteen-nineties sense of cynicism. There’s nothing erotic here, and even the news of Ms. Kidman’s...
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SOURCE: “Now Playing the Strip,” in New York, March 29, 1999, pp. 73-4.
[In the following review, Simon offers a salutary estimate of Via Dolorosa.]
Does a playwright’s holding forth in person for 90 minutes about journeying to Israel and the Gaza Strip sound like good theater? No? Guess again; you’ll be riveted by Via Dolorosa. David Hare can observe, write, think (already rare enough in a dramatist), and also act. Not in the sense of political action—what can an English playwright do to compel Jews and Palestinians to live in peace?—but of being a charming actor. He can also bear witness.
Hare, who has a Jewish wife, conceived his trips to a war that calls itself peace negotiations out of both intellectual and professional curiosity. The tone is set right off: “The girl at Gatwick asks me where I am going. ‘Tel Aviv,’ I say, and at once she laughs. ‘Lucky you,’ she says and roars with laughter. Why? … What is the joke?” The joke, as Hare is too tactful to spell out, is that Israel is no place to go. But some essential truths are lurking or rampaging there, as in so many strife-torn parts of the world. Or in the covetous human soul, never content with what it possesses.
The author was lucky enough to be shown around everywhere and meet everyone, even if only by mistake. Thus he gets to see the most popular and reclusive...
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SOURCE: “England Has No Feelings, Yes?,” in Times Literary Supplement, May 7, 1999, p. 21.
[In the following review, Duguid offers an unsatisfactory appraisal of Plenty.]
David Hare was born in 1947, and grew up with films and comics about the Second World War. In 1978, when he came to write Plenty, he could put an up-to-date gloss on their tales of adventure and honour by adding elements from the recently published history of the SOE in France and the revelations of Anthony Blunt’s treachery. As in his television film Licking Hitler (1977), there is a female central character: Susan Traherne, a courier in France who, accustomed to war, cracks up under the pressures of peace and prosperity (a theme which has echoes of Rose Macaulay and of The Constant Nymph). Her story runs alongside a brief history of British post-war decline, as seen from the late 1970s: sexual decadence, Suez, the advertising industry, drugs.
The play is structured as a series of short scenes which take us from the certainties of northern France—St Benoit, 1943—to London in the 1950s and early 60s, ending, after a Rattigan-like episode in a cheap hotel in Blackpool (the end of the road for Susan Traherne), with a dream sequence which looks back to the hopes of the Liberation. On the way, there are some emblematic exchanges in which personal disasters underscore the nation’s failure of...
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Gelb, Hal. “Theater.” Nation (2 November 1992): 518-20.
Offers a positive assessment of A Map of the World, though finds fault in the play's Los Angeles production.
Homden, Carol. “The Best Lack All Conviction.” Times Literary Supplement (15 October 1993): 16.
Offers an overview and analysis of Hare's trilogy—The Absence of War, Racing Demon, and Murmuring Judges.
King, Robert L. “Recent Drama.” Massachusetts Review XXXI, Nos. 1-2 (Spring-Summer 1990): 273-86.
An unfavorable review of The Secret Rapture.
———. “Recent Drama.” Massachusetts Review XXXII, No. 1 (Spring 1991): 147-60.
A positive review of Racing Demon.
Kroll, Jack. “In a Land without Pity.” Newsweek (15 March 1999): 70.
A positive review of Via Dolorosa.
Miller, Barry X. Review of Acting Up. Library Journal (1 November 1999): 84.
Offers a positive assessment of Acting Up.
Morris, Frances. “Underpinnings.” Times Literary Supplement (30 March-5 April 1990): 347.
Offers an unfavorable assessment of Strapless.
Oliva, Judy Lee. Review of The Secret Rapture....
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