David Hare has been identified as a socialist playwright, a committed artist whose concerns are predominantly moral and often satiric. His work reflects the stance of the “angry” writers of the 1950’s carried forward into a second generation of “furious” playwrights , as Jack Kroll has aptly described them. Hare’s English characters are shaped by the postwar realities of British life; some of them (such as Susan, the central character of Plenty) have not properly adjusted to a changing world, while others (such as Curly, the central character of Knuckle) have adjusted at the expense of becoming hardened and cynical or morally complacent. Hare has a genius for drawing strong, distinctive characters who often behave outrageously.
Although many of the plays are set in his native England, his concerns are global, as reflected by increasingly international and exotic settings for the later plays: New York, Leningrad, Saigon, India, and the People’s Republic of China, for example. He has also extended his work from the stage to film and television. Hare has a unique talent for dramatizing people under pressure and confronted with crises—social, commercial, moral, revolutionary, and political. His scope is impressively broad, and his concerns in general involve issues of truth, honesty, and integrity. Indeed, the title of one of his most successful plays of the 1980’s, Pravda, means “truth.”
Hare has been favorably compared with Bertolt Brecht (for Fanshen, his documentary play about the Chinese Revolution, “the nearest any English contemporary writer has come to emulating Brecht,” in the estimation of Michael Coveney) and Harold Pinter, perhaps the most gifted playwright of the previous generation. Among younger talents, the volume and quality of his work may perhaps be matched by Tom Stoppard, but few others.
After the success of Slag in 1970, Hare won the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright. In 1974, Knuckle won for him the John Llewellyn Rhys Award. In 1979, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts voted Licking Hitler the Best Television Play of the Year. In 1985, the film Wetherby, which Hare both wrote and directed, won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear Award. The Secret Rapture was named the best play for 1988 by Drama Magazine. Hare’s awards also include the New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1983), the Olivier Award (1990 and 1996), and the London Theatre Critics’ Award (1990).