Critical Context

Plenty is the logical succession to David Hare’s earlier plays, which also chronicle the decline of English society. Slag (pr. 1970, pb. 1971), his first full-length play, was considered sexist by some critics; yet the play is as much about the boarding school as about the three women contending for power. Thus Slag is primarily critical of institutions. Brassneck (pr. 1973, pb. 1974), written with Howard Brenton, details the three-generation decline of a Midlands family. In the teleplay Licking Hitler (1978), the companion play to Plenty, Hare also examines a broad historical and geographical context and traces the British decline to the post-World War II years. In his later work for television and film, particularly in Wetherby (1985), a film he wrote and directed, Hare has used unusual protagonists, like Susan, who challenge audience empathy because they do not acclimate themselves to a society inimical to their values and beliefs. Hare’s male characters either adapt and lose their integrity or resist and are crushed by the system. Plenty has won for Hare an international reputation, primarily because the film version, which Hare also wrote, was a success. Meryl Streep, who played Susan, enhanced Susan’s complexity because her star appeal worked against the selfishness of Susan’s stage character.

Susan can be seen as a descendant of John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter, a railing misfit from the 1960’s, when “angry young men” dominated the English stage. Hare can himself be linked with Terence Rattigan and Osborne, who also have used ideological conflict in their plays. Hare’s anger, however, has lasted into the 1970’s and 1980’s, and his attention has remained focused on left-wing politics. Though he is a decidedly English writer, his later work has been more international in scope and has been favorably compared to Bertolt Brecht’s in political stance and dramatic technique. He is, with Tom Stoppard, the most accomplished of contemporary English dramatists and certainly, because of his work in television and film, one of the most versatile.