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.