Hare, David (Vol. 29)
David Hare 1947–
English dramatist and scriptwriter.
Hare is a leading figure in the movement of British theater toward political concerns during the 1970s. Along with such dramatists as Howard Brenton and Trevor Griffiths, he writes in the aftermath of the "angry young man" tradition of John Osborne and Arnold Wesker. Setting his plays in a variety of microcosmic societies, Hare exposes the inadequacies of capitalism and imperialism and the decay of civilization in England. The societies he portrays, ranging from an isolated girls' school in Slag (1970) to a Chinese village in Fanshen (1975), parallel the problems of his country and demonstrate the impact on individual lives of recent English history. Most of Hare's plays reveal a socialist bias, but being personal as well as political, they stress his feeling that "the main reform needed is moral."
Hare began his career in the theater in the late 1960s, when he left Cambridge University with his friend Tony Bicât to found the Portable Theatre, one of the first "fringe" theaters. At that time, little was happening in theater outside of the West End of London, and the goal of the Portable was, in Hare's words, "to take theatre to places where it couldn't normally go." The Portable was alternative theater: its mobility enabled it to be seen in campus gymnasiums and youth clubs, and its plays depicted England in a state of moral decline. Many critics considered the Portable playwrights arrogant and cynical. During the 1970s, "fringe" theater became more popular with the drama establishment and received government funding. Hare became one of the most prominent and commercially successful of this group of political playwrights. Before he began writing plays, Hare was an accomplished director, and he has since combined playwriting with directing.
The first of Hare's plays to reach a wide audience was Slag, a farce involving three female schoolteachers in isolation. The decline of English culture is mirrored in the bizarre behavior of the three women as their school gradually loses all its pupils. Although some critics perceived Slag as misogynistic, Hare claims to have written the play out of feminist sentiments and an interest in female character. His other plays also reflect this interest, and Hare is credited with creating some of the strongest roles for women in contemporary theater.
After Slag, Hare wrote several plays in collaboration with others during the inception of the fringe movement. Later, he wrote Knuckle (1974), a Mickey Spillane-type detective thriller which has been interpreted as a message about the importance of being self-critical and avoiding complacency when engaging in revolutionary efforts. Knuckle is anticapitalist but stresses the need for idealists to acknowledge the real power of capitalism. Unlike some of his compatriots, Hare satirizes leftwing intellectuals as well as the establishment. This aspect of his plays, along with their focus on the upper class rather than the working class, has helped to make Hare more commercially successful than some of his fellow noncommercial playwrights.
Plenty (1978) is generally considered Hare's best work and is a typical Hare play in its focus on a woman and upper-class life. It is the story of a diplomat's wife who is so filled with idealism from her days in the French Resistance movement that she later becomes bitter and ineffectual and eventually goes mad. The title of the play refers to the prosperity which was supposed to follow World War II; Susan's life reveals the true spiritual emptiness of that time. Plenty shows the effect of the war and its political aftermath on Susan's life, and Hare uses Susan as an example of what happened to all of England. His recent play Map of the World (1983) has not been well received by critics, who claim that he has tried to cover too many subjects.
In general, even critics who fail to praise Hare's plays respect his skill as a playwright. Hare is most often faulted for failing to analyze fully the topics treated in his plays. For instance, in Plenty Hare discusses the reasons for Susan's postwar malaise and madness, but critics are not convinced that he has clarified whether the character's problems are unique to her or an inevitable result of the time in which she lives. Most acknowledge that Hare creates individual scenes of great intensity, but some suggest that his plays as a whole tend to lose their impact through inconsistency. Nevertheless, most critics agree that he is among the best contemporary dramatists at creating witty and riveting dialogue.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100 and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13.)
Mr. Hare is … dexterously talented. He skates with words, plays with metaphors and teases lilacs out of the dead land of an English society too long in transit. In short, he is clever. He is also a genuine playwright with more ideas than his thought can handle.
"Slag" is set in a private girls' school, those special and expensive torture camps happily endemic to England….
The girls' school in "Slag" is on the way down and will soon be on the way out. Mr. Hare postulates just three teachers and hardly any more pupils. By the end of the play, only this skeleton staff is left. The three young teachers try to make the best of things. The headmistress is determined to keep control of her staff, a young virgin devotee of Women's Lib who is a fervent proponent of self-assistance in sexual matters, and a lady who misses men enough to engender a hysterical pregnancy after a fleeting Lesbian encounter.
Mr. Hare is operating on a number of levels. First he is writing a fantasy about the decline of English society—its new rootlessness—as symbolized, Ionesco-fashion, by the disintegration of the school. The play is called "Slag," the refuse left by burning ore and other materials. The bonfire party is over, and new generations are left with the cold ashes.
So far, so interesting, but Mr. Hare darts off at tangents like a mad geometrician given a sufficiency of circles. He wants to...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
[Slag shows Hare] to be a prodigy. Slag is unfocussed and sometimes boring, but it is attractively articulate and theatrically at home….
The best aspect of the play is that Hare has taken a conventional comedy about a public-school staff and converted it internally into a macabre fantasy without much altering externals, rather in the manner of I. Compton-Burnett. Some of the materials are: a kind of mod Princess Ida, a female sanctum with males excluded and the results thereof; satire on cultural glibness; and, the seeming sine qua non of English playwrights these days, a microcosm of the fate of the Empire. None of these efforts wholly succeeds, largely because Hare never clarifies his viewpoint, he just has fun; but if Slag doesn't always hold interest, it always commands respect. One thing the play is bursting with is promise.
Stanley Kauffmann, in a review of "Slag" (copyright © 1971 by Stanley Kauffmann; reprinted by permission of Brandt and Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.), in The New Republic, Vol. 164, No. 11, March 13, 1971, p. 32.
(The entire section is 169 words.)
["Slag" is] quite the dullest evening in town. There are just three women in it, which is a bit of a mistake to begin with since they all speak at a teakettle hiss, making one wish that a male voice were present or that refreshments would soon be served.
Nothing refreshing is served….
Hopping about the stage as though she'd just taken landing lessons from Peter Pan, [Joanne] is not really an advertisement for Fem Lib, unless we want to believe that Mr. Hare sees the Fem Lib crowd as altogether around the bend. Neither is she a sounding-board for provocative, or even mildly original, ideas. She is merely tiresome….
The other two are busy climbing to the roof and falling off (hey, any symbolism there?), playing hilarious practical jokes with collapsing chairs on one another, sucking one another's toes, and entering into sexual relationships…. One of the two becomes pregnant for a time, she says, but we are unable to pay much attention to that because [Joanne] has by this time put on a Ubangi mask and whipped out a toy machine gun.
What is so defeating about the evening is not the inscrutability of its message or even the monotony of its voice-work but the fact that playwright Hare never writes a line that makes you want to listen to the next. He is not even a good tease, there is no come-hither to his prose….
Walter Kerr, "A Brilliantly...
(The entire section is 262 words.)
J. W. Lambert
Teeth 'n' Smiles [is] simultaneously a metaphor for British society and an elegy for the vanished visions of the late Sixties, but a great deal more entertaining than that solemn summary might suggest. The time is 1969, the place a Cambridge college during a May Week ball (May Week balls are smart parties which the colleges hold in June). By way of keeping up with the times, the college has engaged a pop group to play…. [A] Storey-line is followed: the band arrives, messes about, plays, and departs. But it is a band in the throes of dissolution, like the kind of alternative culture it stands for. Mr. Hare on the face of it wishes us to feel with and for that alternative culture; but … he cannot as an artist conceal from himself or from us that it is no good. For all concerned it was a blind alley…. The group itself is all too obviously going nowhere as it lounges about playing feeble wordgames, injecting itself, mocking the nobs and occasionally playing … hollow songs amplified into pounding vacancy, while a contemptuous college servant and an eager-to-be-with-it little undergraduate come and go. They are all, in so far as their lives have any point or focus, the slaves of an enchantress. She, the singer, is at one point isolated in a striking theatrical image, keening in a pool of light while out of the darkness around snout-faces mutter their adoration; but mostly she is drunk or drugged, lost, miles adrift from her commonplace New Town...
(The entire section is 345 words.)
You might box [Fanshen] up as a documentary [of the Chinese agrarian reform movement], or as a didactic piece on the lines of Brecht's The Measures Taken: but, in this case, formal classification is no more helpful than using a learned medical term to explain away a virus…. Literally fanshen means "to turn the body": in the revolutionary vocabulary this means putting an end to feudalism—not only by expropriation of property, but by education, judicial reform, sexual equality, the whole process which Chekhov described as "casting out the slave in oneself".
There are two stock varieties of revolutionary drama: those that salute the glorious overthrow of the oppressors, and those that show the new regime going on to exceed the iniquities of the old. The point about Fanshen is that it bypasses this futile cycle, and shows a community that does not collapse into cynicism and corruption. All the violence comes at the start, with the village revolt against the landlords; then a Maoist work team move in and dissolve the local cadres. There are classification meetings, where property is reallocated; public tribunals, where officials come before peasant delegates to confess their mistakes. Everything is open to examination, except the case of remaking the community.
The production encourages you to look at the evidence with an equally open mind. It would take a determined bourgeois individualist...
(The entire section is 370 words.)
[After] the first night of David Hare's Teeth 'n' Smiles, there seemed to be one name on everyone's lips—John Osborne. Wasn't it just like early Osborne, old Courtiers were saying. Didn't it carry you back to The Entertainer and those first, electric nights of Look Back in Anger? To which the answer, strictly and properly, should have been no, not really. I've never been among those who find it helpful to think of Bucharest as the Paris of the Balkans, nor would it strike me as flattering to call David Hare, or anyone else, the Osborne of the '70s. Still, because it was obviously shorthand and well-intended, I said yes, I saw what they meant…. [Teeth 'n' Smiles is] a play plugged deep into the rusty, defective socket of contemporary England, popping and sparking with anger at the connection.
The image is Hare's, more or less. For its first half hour or so, Teeth 'n' Smiles revolves slowly around an unconnected electric plug, centre stage. It powers, or ought to be powering, the amplifiers of Maggie Frisby's travelling rock-group, contracted to play at a Jesus College May ball in Cambridge, 1969, and already ninety minutes late. But the group say it's not working, and none of them will touch it … So the plug lies there useless, artfully gathering to itself a charge of mounting irritation from both sides of the footlights.
The British disease? Demarcation dispute? No, this is a...
(The entire section is 970 words.)
Hare is certainly the brightest literary satirist in the underground. His plays tend to reflect the self-enclosed and, finally, self-defeating society which surrounds middle-class 'progressive' groups…. Unlike many underground writers, he is able to satirize the pretensions of progressives as bitingly as those of reactionaries. A desire for revolution can also imply a purely middle-class endeavour to jump on the latest cultural or political bandwagon. (p. 11)
Although Slag provides a platform for a discussion of feminist views, which is frequently absent from our male-orientated theatres, the play lacks any genuine commitment to its central subject. Indeed Hare tends to treat the characters as chromosomes, stretching their roles and attitudes as a kind of theatrical experiment in a laboratory. His women are female pieces of elastic, mouthpieces for stretching and promptly snapping various fashionable notions about Women's Lib. Several of the scenes, such as the lesbian encounter between Elise and Ann, are included for pure literary parody (a boarding school version of Genet's all women The Maids), without serving any psychological or emotional truth. Finally Slag becomes an elaborate, extended literary joke.
Hare's more recent play The Great Exhibition, however, shows his talent for parody in a more constructive light. A disillusioned Labour MP, elected during the 1965 Labour landslide,...
(The entire section is 465 words.)
Mr. Hare is a man in his early thirties, not his late sixties. He is writing about the world of his seniors, trying to diagnose its disease dramatically; [Plenty] has its origin in events that he can only have imagined as a fact of contemporary history rather than experienced directly. Moreover Mr. Hare has grown up in the period when our theatre has been let out of the confines of the single-setting play in which Rattigan and the managements for which he worked contained it. Mr. Hare has studied Brecht and he has a social conscience. He is one of a number of comparatively young English playwrights who have tried to introduce a more fluid kind of construction and have shown how a play may spread itself in time and space without losing concentration or depth. (p. 48)
[The role of Susan is] a part bursting with suppressed hysteria which totally dominates the piece from start to finish, and she makes it her own. What, asks Mr. Hare, is a woman who has lived so dangerously in occupied France for two or more years and survived the experience, to do afterwards? How can she fit into the England of Attlee, of Stafford Cripps, of Anthony Eden? Well, in real life they did. They outlived their heroism and accepted what they had to accept. They married, raised families, took jobs, gave dinner parties, wrote memoirs.
Here Susan … does or tries to do all of these things but there is in her a spirit of rebellion bred of...
(The entire section is 566 words.)
In a recent interview on television, David Hare declared that he is not a social doctor prescribing remedies for our national ills. Nevertheless, like most dramatists of his generation, he is concerned with diagnosing our social condition. The particular interest and originality of his plays lies in the immense variety of subject matter and styles he employs to illuminate that condition. In Teeth 'n' Smiles, he uses a rock band playing at a Cambridge May Ball as a framework for wider comment. In Knuckle, he adopts a thriller format. Fanshen tells the story of the Chinese revolution in a particular village employing a Brechtian narrative style. Brassneck, which he wrote with Howard Brenton, is an exuberant sweep through post-war British history, exposing the corruption and political in-fighting in an imaginary Midlands town. The effectiveness with which he handles these different styles and subjects reveals his considerable talent as a writer. (p. 76)
[In Plenty, the] history of Susan Traherne is traced through some twenty years. In that time, she is unable to find work she can believe in, she fails to become pregnant when she desires a child. She slips into marriage, but has decidedly ambivalent feelings towards her diplomat husband, and finally leaves him. The play is written with Hare's customary sharpness and wit, but the wit exposes suffering, it does not undercut it. In one devastating scene, set...
(The entire section is 1002 words.)
Susan is one of the best roles written for an actress since Brecht's Mutter Courage, and [Plenty] is Hare's best so far, but it is seriously flawed by its awkward division of focus between rotting psyche and rotten society. The implication is that the main causes of Susan's deterioration are social. We see her mouldering with discontent in a well-paid advertising job, and making rebellious gestures (like stealing food) when she is working for the 1951 Festival of Britain. After marrying a young diplomat, she discharges her indignation about Suez in the presence of an ambassador; later she threatens a high-ranking official that she will shoot herself unless her husband is promoted. Her freedom from inhibition, her determination, and her outspokenness are self-defeating and destructive, but she seems not only more courageous but more admirable than anyone else in the play. David Hare's attitude to her is obviously ambivalent, and this is damaging because it disqualifies him from providing us with a perspective. We are being invited to judge Susan without sufficient evidence. War naturally offers an outlet for aggressiveness which needs to be restrained in peace-time, but in so far as the play is arguing that her wartime experience is the cause of her subsequent difficulties, it fails to substantiate its point, and in so far as it is using her as a yardstick to hold up against the moral corruption of postwar England, it is perverse. The...
(The entire section is 469 words.)
As a narrative, David Hare's Dreams of Leaving … has the confined simplicity and elegance of an Eric Rohmer moral tale….
And yet the film is a disappointment, all the more frustrating for being so tantalizing, for offering elements that are never quite connected. In a Radio Times interview David Hare has said that in Dreams of Leaving he was trying "to push aside the business of being a teacher or a moralist". Perhaps in this remark lies the source of my frustration, for in this film Hare seems to have chosen a means of proceeding, through the use of voice-over, that is essentially moral: a man in early middle age looks back on his youth, and tells the wistful story of a failure of recognition. Conrad would have approved such a structure….
The film proclaims moral intent, moral progress from Innocence at the opening of the play—"I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know if it was breakfast or lunch"—to Wisdom at the end—"If anyone now asks me what I feel about these things …". Consciously or not, Hare has put himself in the business of delivering up meaning, or being a moralist, and I think he has evaded his responsibilities….
[Perhaps] Hare feels that in Dreams of Leaving he was making a clean break with the political and social concerns that have been at the centre of his previous work. And yet what is valuable in that work has been an insistence that...
(The entire section is 704 words.)
Hare once confessed, albeit wryly, that he can only write about the middle classes; and while it is true that he can pen convincing dialogue for Chinese peasants or zonked-out rock musicians, his most memorable creations stem from the highly articulate but often emotionally sterile bourgeoisie. Hare is particularly concerned with the sufferings of intense and virulently honest people (often women) caught up in the cloying, claustrophobic and tightly knit society of establishment Britain, whether it be the suburban delights of stockbroker Guildford, the groves of academe or the post-Suez diplomatic service.
In Hare's plays the rules of the game are often the only important factors. Those who survive are those who know the rules. (p. 118)
Knuckle is a fascinating piece of writing, on one level an affectionate parody of the clipped style of the labyrinthine thriller, and indeed of the drama of parental discord (Curly's stockbroker father barely acknowledges the existence of his children while being engrossed in the novels of Henry James), on another a biting comment on the damaging effect of acquisitive life-styles on potentially worthwhile lives. Indeed, Curly's refusal to act on his knowledge comes as little surprise, given his rather bizarre defence of his own occupation—both as a reaction to his father's more respectable exploitation and as a service to world peace! And though Hare's satirical inclinations...
(The entire section is 899 words.)
If the British playwrights of the '50s and '60s were Angry Young Men, then those of the '70s and '80s are Furious. Writers like David Hare have brought a new passion to their plays that has often discomfited and shocked audiences, but has carried their work from the little "fringe" theaters to the West End commercial houses and the subsidized battlements of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. This passion is neither narrowly political nor personal; Hare and his generation are fiercely concerned for the quality of life as it touches everyone in his most intimate or public aspects, from sex to socialism, from economics to anxiety. Strongly individual, these writers also feel a common bond, symbolized in the controversial play about a sensational rape case, "Lay By," which was written collectively by seven of them—Hare, Howard Brenton, Brian Clark, Trevor Griffiths, Stephen Poliakoff, Hugh Stoddart and Snoo Wilson. These fiery dramatists have exploded the legend of English cool, and none has more fire than the 33-year-old Hare….
With astonishing ease, Hare crams a great deal of material into his panoramic but intimate play [Plenty], whose moods range from a sharp-witted Coward-like comedy to a Brechtian synthesis of historic forces and personal destiny. He plays clever games with his audience, starting the play with a naked, blood-smeared man on a bed; starting another scene with a parachute jumper hitting...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
Hare belongs to the school of promising young English playwrights who have been influenced by John Osborne and often have something to say, though it is not always easy to follow.
His play is called Knuckle, and both the title and the text are somewhat perplexing. Despite the use of the singular, I imagine the title is meant to suggest the pitiless use of brass knuckles. The play is conceived and developed as a cold-blooded drama of suspense; it is harsh and hard-hitting, leaving no room for the expression of emotions…. Hare fitfully tries to heighten the suspense by occasionally drawing upon the "theater of cruelty" that was in fashion at the Royal Court during the time he spent there.
"Mickey Spillane" is the password to understanding Hare's intent. When directly addressing the audience, Curly Delafield, the main character, mentions Spillane as a symbol, though not an explanation, of what he is and of the situation he is facing. But Hare is not merely concerned with solving a possible crime. Behind the Spillanian mask there is a social critic, and toward the end of the play we realize that the author is applying his brass knuckles to a certain class of society rather than to individual criminals….
When the story begins, Curly has not seen his father or his sister for 12 years. After reading in the newspapers that Sarah has disappeared somewhere on a beach, leaving only her raincoat with...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
It's not until late in Act II that the audience hears the noise of breaking glass in David Hare's "Plenty," but long before then, we've become terribly familiar with the harrowing sound of things going smash. A partial list of the evening's casualties would include at least three lives, one empire (the British), the egalitarian ideals of a generation and many of the conventions of the traditional narrative play.
But if this sounds reckless, Mr. Hare is no indiscriminate vandal. Out of the bloody shards of the ruins, this young British playwright has meticulously erected an explosive theatrical vision of a world that was won and lost during and after World War II. (p. 394)
Mr. Hare tells Susan's tale in a dozen scenes that are ripped out of chronological order. His play's structure, which can be slightly confusing, employs flashback, flashforward and in media res. While it's a jigsaw puzzle that only comes together at the end, it's no gimmick: Mr. Hare has found a visceral theatrical embodiment for the central tension in his heroine's soul. The France of the 1940's is always as much in focus as the modern England of Suez and rampant commercialization; we constantly see each setting refracted through the other.
The liberated chronology also allows the author to crystallize his highly selective story and character details; he strips away psychological, plot and ideological exposition to achieve a...
(The entire section is 702 words.)
The flaw in [the plotting of "Plenty"] becomes apparent fairly early. A British commando comes down, fighting to disentangle himself from his parachute, in occupied France during World War II. He is almost immediately looking directly into the barrel of a pistol. It is held by a nervous girl in a trench coat (Kate Nelligan) who is as British as he. She is working with the French Resistance and, once she has accepted his credentials, she is able to give him vital tips on avoiding the Gestapo. As their hurried meeting is about to come to a close, she does an odd, impulsive thing. Grateful to see a compatriot whose name she doesn't and must not know, exhausted from her labors and rattled by tensions, courageous and proud and still not at all eager to die, she lurches into the young man's arms, clinging to him awkwardly, the tips of her toes barely touching the ground. The embrace is quickly over, her unwanted tears are brushed away, the two part as anonymously as they have met and—it would seem—psychically fused. The play moves on into the postwar world….
But everything that happens to this woman (and to her country) becomes dependent on that one fleeting embrace in France "beneath a mackerel sky." A few seconds of ecstasy, of mysterious fulfillment, have blocked her forever. Even when she is proposing to a young lower-class musician that he father her baby and promptly disappear, the comparison with the past intrudes. It is...
(The entire section is 464 words.)
David Hare once observed that his plays were intended as puzzles for the audience to solve…. But Plenty … though far more disciplined than his previous offerings, is not a conundrum, merely a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces all too knowingly scrambled. In the end, after milking this purposive disarray for its maximum ironic value, Hare himself unriddles everything for us. We are left as spectators of not so much a play as a display: impressed, sometimes entertained, often dazzled. But quite unmoved. (p. 82)
[The point of Plenty] is not so much the story as the cunning way in which it is fragmented and skips back and forth in time. Some of this is to keep us guessing, surprised, and a bit bewildered; some of it is to underscore, often heavily, certain ironies about Britain's history, betrayed aspirations, and decline. As in all his plays, Hare keeps, directly or indirectly, jocularly or bitterly, excoriating his country; here it is chiefly done by canny juxtapositions that, alas, come at the expense of cumulative strength: too many fragments, too much empty space around them, and a disorienting inconsistency of tone.
For we go from documentary realism to fanciful satire, from scenes that are pure drawing-room comedy to others that drip with gall. Absurdism waits in the wings, sometimes letting its toes protrude; ironically understated faces stick out a homiletic tongue. Finally, it is Hare's virtue that...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
[Plenty] is an ambitious effort to create a comprehensive X-ray of England's soul following World War II. Taking social fluoroscopes is an important, even crucial, dramatic function—it was Chekhov's motive in The Cherry Orchard, for example, and Shaw's in Heartbreak House—though such tasks have grown more difficult as the diagnostics have grown more complicated. I don't think Hare entirely accomplishes his intention, but I honor him for it, and pray it has a salutary influence on American playwrights, most of whom are still engaged in counting kitchen angels on the heads of domestic pins….
It is Hare's conviction that World War II represented England's last heroic moment (the play was written before the Falkland victory restored some of the country's lost pride), after which it experienced a series of demoralizing deceptions and compromises, tied to the loss of empire. Ironically, this was a time of relative affluence, an era of peace and plenty; it was also a period when the relationship between the individual and the family, between the individual and society, began to break down. Susan Traherne is not Everywoman, but her condition is representative of the entire English middle class in showing an intelligent, spirited, delicately poised human being pulverized by the failures of her time.
This demonstration, however, along with a somewhat shaky structure, exposes the most uncertain aspect...
(The entire section is 724 words.)
On the face of it A Map Of The World is a serious play about important issues. It takes in world poverty; third-world emergent nationalism; the decay of western civilization; art and expression; the artist's pursuit of truth and his freedom to express it; the nature of fiction; Capitalism; Marxism; Zionism; sexual expression hetero, homo and bi….
[An] outline does little justice to the sparkling humour and polemical seriousness of Hare's new play. But it indicates the confusion arising from actors playing real people playing actors playing them. Contrary to his publicly televised assertion …, what is real and what is acted is not "absolutely clear" in performance. His claim that Stephen's final abusive tirade marks his discovery of belief in something is absurd. The plot's absurdities are bosh. Would a rabid anti-Marxist be invited to making the keynote speech at such a UNESCO conference? Would a nonentity like Stephen be allowed to endanger an international meeting? Would either man argue it out to sleep with dimwit Peggy?
The fatal flaw which destroys A Map Of The World is the film within the play device. By it we are confronted with people passionately arguing over real issues who, at the point of commitment, are shown to be unthinking, uncaring actors who don't believe a word they say. What price sincerity when, in a significant addition to the published text, Elaine asks of actress Peggy's real...
(The entire section is 346 words.)
John Hope Mason
Despite the large claims David Hare's early plays made to be describing the state of England, there was always a danger that the general view, the overall verdict, would collapse into a purely local and personal reaction. This was particularly the case with Plenty, where what set out to be a chronicle of disappointment at the unfulfilled promise of Britain's post-war history came across more as a projection back onto it of disappointment at the unfulfilled promise of the 1960s. Hare is too good a writer and too accomplished a playwright not to have made Plenty a strong theatrical experience, but the underlying difficulty remained.
In his new play, A Map of the World, he has confronted this difficulty—the relationship between individual experience and general judgment—in the context not of England but of the world. The difficulty is not completely resolved—in part because other concerns are equally pressing—but that is less important than the courage Hare shows in grasping this particular nettle and the tenacity with which he follows his theme through to its conclusion. In the end the play lives up to its high ambition.
The action shifts between a film studio in England and a Unesco conference on poverty in Bombay. Among those invited to speak at the conference is a famous Indian novelist, Victor Mehta…. Mehta has little respect for the United Nations and even less for Marxist reformers;...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
John Russell Taylor
Contrary to popular opinion, I can see nothing very mystifying about the construction of David Hare's new play A Map of the World …—except why he should have wanted to put it together that way in the first place. The principal action concerns emotional sparring and sexual rivalry going on in the margins of some U N conference on world poverty set in a plush Bombay hotel. The annexed material, as it were, is introduced smartly at the end of the first scene, by a quick dissolve … to a film studio where, a few years later, Hollywood-on-Thames is in the midst of travestying the novel one of the characters we have just met wrote about the whole business. From then on we go back and forth, but mostly back, with occasional interludes in the film-making present, until the last section …, when we settle to the present with a vengeance.
I suppose the structure must have some sort of ironic talent. But since we see only one absurd scenelet which unmistakably belongs to the film rather than life, we have to take it on trust that literary mayhem is being committed. But the to-ing and fro-ing does at least distract us a bit from the vacuity of the central story. Not to mention its creeping implausibility. (p. 30)
Does one believe that everyone at the conference expects it to change the world, but only if the novelist makes his speech without interference? Does one believe that all these people can have got so...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Perhaps because Hare is looking at subjects new to his repertoire [in A Map of the World], its ideas are rather disparate: he seems to be talking about Third World Funding, Zionism, How We Argue, The distorting Power of Fiction/Reporting and Sexual Rivalry—all at once. These ideas may be spread thin in the course of the play, but it does not make them any less stimulating and forceful; also, while he seems to be moving away from outright criticism of British institutions and mores, there is a great deal of muck thrown at British arrogance and its dictatorial attitude to the Third World. To contrast this English rejection of the Third World, Hare offers a spark of hope; the strength of utopianism in a world still finding its feet….
A Map of the World marks a change in Hare's work not only for the move from England's Establishment, but also for the hope and optimism that Hare has found in the Third World.
This brings Hare to his furthest remove from his Fringe beginnings: a play taking its title from Wilde, toying with the artificiality of the theatre (a device currently being employed in the West End by Stoppard and Frayn as well), long, articulate dialogues, and on at the National (whose production values his scripts demand). And this is what Hare does best—stinging wit followed by undercutting honesty. But, sadly, the move from personal suffering to public polemic has left his characters high and...
(The entire section is 496 words.)