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.)