Historical Context

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Although David Hare began his playwriting career in England during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, he grew to popular prominence during the ‘‘Thatcher Decade’’ of the 1980s, an era that has influenced his work to the present day. During the 1980s, Hare was an outspoken critic of the ‘‘Iron Lady,’’...

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Although David Hare began his playwriting career in England during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, he grew to popular prominence during the ‘‘Thatcher Decade’’ of the 1980s, an era that has influenced his work to the present day. During the 1980s, Hare was an outspoken critic of the ‘‘Iron Lady,’’ as Great Britain’s Prime Minister from 1979-1990, Margaret Thatcher, was known. As the leader of the reigning Conservative Party (or ‘‘Tories’’) in Great Britain, Thatcher stood for everything Hare and the liberal Labour Party were against. During her terms in office, she sold and privatized many governmentoperated businesses such as British Airways and British Telecom. She also fought to damage the influence and control of labor unions in Great Britain, and her administration drastically reduced the welfare benefits offered to Britons, particularly in the areas of education and health.

Thatcher’s methods produced boom years for many. Overall wages and standards of living rose during the 1980s, and the decade is often remembered as a period of rampant greed and consumerism, much like the same years in America during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Still, many more people were pushed aside, and the gap between the ‘‘haves’’ and ‘‘have-nots’’ grew wider. During the Thatcher Decade, Hare’s plays, such as Pravda (1985) and The Secret Rapture (1988), were scathing indictments of British society under a Conservative government.

In 1990, Thatcher was turned out of office, thanks largely to a temporary increase in inflation and friction between her administration and governments on continental Europe that were seeking to unify their currency and reduce trade barriers. The Iron Lady was replaced by John Major, another Conservative Party representative. For seven more years, Major and the Conservative Party attempted to curb inflation, stabilize the pound (British currency), and improve relations with the European community and their increasingly hostile colony to the west, Ireland. At one point during his term of office, Major received only a fourteen percent approval rating from the people of Great Britain, the lowest of any Prime Minister in the country’s history. During the Major years, Hare continued his attacks on Conservative government with a trilogy of plays aimed at social institutions: Racing Demon (1990), about the Church of England; Murmuring Judges (1991), concerning Britain’s legal system; and The Absence of War (1993), a commentary on politics in England.

Hare’s arch-nemeses, the Conservatives, were finally driven from office in 1997, when the longsuffering Labour Party produced Tony Blair as the new Prime Minister of Britain. With Labour back in office, many of the political worries Hare had been critiquing in his plays for so many years were, temporarily at least, held at bay. While Hare was writing The Blue Room, Blair was restructuring the health care system in Britain to better serve low- and middle-income families. Blair also created closer ties to the European Union (though by 1999, Great Britain had still not chosen to participate in the new unified European currency system, based on the ‘‘Euro’’), and, in 1998-99, he helped revive the stalled peace talks over British rule in Northern Ireland.

Throughout the Thatcher Decade, the John Major years, and Tony Blair’s ‘‘New Labour’’ administration, a major change also occurred in one of England’s most famous institutions: the royal family. English royalty, at one time the ruling kings and queens of one of the largest commonwealth empires the world has ever known, steadily lost their power and prestige during the final years of the twentieth century. While the actual king or queen of Britain has been merely a figurehead for many years, with the real power to create and enforce laws given to the Prime Minister and Parliament, history and tradition combined to at least make the royal family an object of reverence for the people of England. However, the divorce of Diana, the immensely popular Princess of Wales, from her husband, Charles in 1996, followed by the princess’s death in an automobile accident in Paris in 1997, caused the people of Great Britain to question the morals and the function of their royal family. By 1999, many politicians and social critics wondered aloud how long it would be before Britain, home to crowned heads from King Alfred the Great to Queen Elizabeth, turned its back on royalty.

Literary Style

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Plot Structure
Quite cleverly, the structure of The Blue Room is part of its story. Originally titled Reigen, German for ‘‘round dance,’’ the play presents a series of characters who meet, have sex, then part ways and move on to a new partner. Ultimately the play ends where it begins, with a sexual transaction between a man and a prostitute.

The larger template of the play is familiar to modern theatergoers. Rather than a single story, told in linear fashion with a handful of characters and only one or two settings, The Blue Room presents a series of ten separate, but interrelated, scenes involving many characters who meet in a variety of locations. The unique contribution this play makes to this type of plot structure is that it is not the story but the characters that carry over from one scene into the next.

The Cab Driver who meets the prostitute in the opening scene is found in a storage closet with an Au Pair in the next scene. Back at home, The Au Pair dallies with The Student, before The Student meets The Married Woman in his bedroom upstairs. She goes home to her husband, The Politician, who then picks up The Model and takes her to a hotel room. And so on. Taken one at a time, each assignation is unremarkable, common even. Together, though, they present a picture of human beings controlled by physical impulses and seemingly powerless to change their miserable destinies.

Slide Projections
The German playwright and director Bertolt Brecht advocated the use of slide projections as a replacement for scenery, or to interrupt the flow of action, in productions of his ‘‘Epic’’ dramas. For Brecht, slide projections were a means of ‘‘alienating’’ his audiences. Instead of allowing audiences to become comfortable and lulled by familiar, realistic scenery and linear, climactic storytelling, Brecht employed signs and projections that told audiences what the setting for a particular scene was, which often took the place of characters in the play by relaying important plot information.

Since Brecht used this experimental device in the 1930s and 1940s, it has caught on in mainstream theatrical production and is now a common element of modern plays. The Blue Room uses slide projections to show the passage of time during scenes, comment on the action of the characters, and provide a touch of humor to the play. Each time two characters come together for sex, the lights fade to black and a slide projection displays the amount of time it took for them to complete the act. The Cab Driver, for example, doesn’t particularly favor The Girl. She is a prostitute and he has no emotional attachment to her, so when they have sex down by the river, their projection reads, ‘‘THREE MINUTES.’’ Immediately afterward, he is up and gone. Later, with the Au Pair, The Cab Driver extends his time to ‘‘NINE MINUTES,’’ with the suggestion that he cares a little more about their tryst.

Sometimes the effect of the slide’s judgment on a character can be humiliating, as when The Student panics after ‘‘FORTY-FIVE SECONDS’’ with the Au Pair, or fizzles in ‘‘0 MINUTES’’ with the Married Woman. The Married Woman and her husband, The Politician, achieve a standard, mundane ‘‘FIFTEEN MINUTES,’’ while The Politician, under the influence of drugs, logs ‘‘TWO HOURS TWENTY-EIGHT MINUTES’’ with the model.

In each instance, the slide projection represents the literal passage of time, as well as a change of mood in the scene, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. The Playwright is a dapper gentleman to The Model after their respectable ‘‘FORTY-NINE MINUTES.’’ Once The Actress spends ‘‘TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES’’ followed by an additional ‘‘TWELVE MINUTES’’ with The Playwright, she stops insulting him and tells him, ‘‘You write brilliant plays.’’ Later, though, the effect of ‘‘ONE HOUR ONE MINUTE’’ on The Actress and The Aristocrat is melancholy and the loss of romance.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 297

Anonymous, trans. Hands Around: A Cycle of Ten Dialogues, Privately printed for Members of the Schnitzler Society, 1929, pp. ix-xiii.

Brantley, Ben. Review of The Blue Room, in the New York Times, December 14, 1998.

Dreher, Rod. Review of The Blue Room, in the National Review, January 25, 1999.

Gussow, Mel. ‘‘David Hare: Playwright as Provocateur,’’ in New York Times Magazine, September 29, 1985, pp. 42-76.

Hare, David. The Blue Room, Grove Press, 1998.

Isherwood, Charles. Review of The Blue Room, in Variety, December 14, 1998, p. 141.

Osborne, Charles, trans. The Round Dance and Other Plays, Carcanet New Press, 1982, pp. vii-x.

Rich, Frank. Review of The Blue Room, in the New York Times, December 30, 1998.

Scholem, Richard. Review of The Blue Room, in LI Business News, January 15, 1999, p. 26A.

Skrine, Peter. Hauptmann, Wedekind and Schnitzler, St. Martin’s Press, 1989, 129-133.

Viagas, Robert. Review of The Blue Room, in Back Stage, December 18, 1998, p. 3.

Further Reading
Liptzin, Solomon and Sol Liptzin. Arthur Schnitzler (Studies in Austrian Literature, Culture, and Thought), Ariadne Publishers, 1995.

At once a history, biography, and literary critique, the Liptzins’ study examines Schnitzler’s place in Austrian and world literature and illuminates some of the most important themes in the author’s work.

Page, Malcolm, compiler. File on Hare, Methuen, 1986.

A collection of excerpted criticism of Hare’s plays, taken largely from theatre reviews in London and New York newspapers and magazines. Also includes a chronology of Hare’s work.

Schorske, Carl E. Fin-De-Siecle Vienna: Politics and Culture,
Random House, 1981.

In seven separate studies, Schorske provides a social and political history of turn-of-the-century Vienna that examines early modernism in art, music, and thought.

Zeifman, Hersh, editor. David Hare: A Casebook, Garland Publishing, 1994.

A collection of essays about Hare’s most important plays, accompanied by a chronology of his work and a bibliography of Hare interviews and criticism.

Media Adaptations

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 60

David Hare’s The Blue Room is based on a series of sketches called Reigen, written by Arthur Schnitzler in 1896. Director Max Ophuls created a film version of Reigen called La Ronde, which premiered in 1950 and has since become a favorite of foreign film buffs. The film stars Simone Signoret and Anton Walbrook as the revolving series of intertwined lovers.

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Critical Essays


Teaching Guide