Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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...

(This entire section contains 756 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

of what happened to all of England. His recent playMap 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.)

Clive Barnes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Mr. Hare is … dexterously talented. He skates with words, plays with metaphors and teases lilacs out of the dead land of an English society too long in transit. In short, he is clever. He is also a genuine playwright with more ideas than his thought can handle.

"Slag" is set in a private girls' school, those special and expensive torture camps happily endemic to England….

The girls' school in "Slag" is on the way down and will soon be on the way out. Mr. Hare postulates just three teachers and hardly any more pupils. By the end of the play, only this skeleton staff is left. The three young teachers try to make the best of things. The headmistress is determined to keep control of her staff, a young virgin devotee of Women's Lib who is a fervent proponent of self-assistance in sexual matters, and a lady who misses men enough to engender a hysterical pregnancy after a fleeting Lesbian encounter.

Mr. Hare is operating on a number of levels. First he is writing a fantasy about the decline of English society—its new rootlessness—as symbolized, Ionesco-fashion, by the disintegration of the school. The play is called "Slag," the refuse left by burning ore and other materials. The bonfire party is over, and new generations are left with the cold ashes.

So far, so interesting, but Mr. Hare darts off at tangents like a mad geometrician given a sufficiency of circles. He wants to explore the shifting power structure between the three girls. He wants to examine—a shade too jocularly, I think—the precepts of Women's Lib and their revolutionary background. He also wants to tell jokes, talk characters, entertain and generally dazzle us.

He doesn't really achieve any of his prime objectives—though that is not quite fair, for the play is consistently entertaining—but he goes far enough toward any of them to show that had his aim been surer, the target would have been well within his range.

He can, on occasion, throwing around offhand joke lines like a blindfolded juggler, be very funny, but the wit is never clearly enough directed. Like the play, it is too diffuse. Yet he has the vital quality any comic playwright must have—a sense of the absurd, which is even more important than humor and a lot more rare than wit.

Clive Barnes, "Theater: David Hare's Exciting 'Slag'," in The New York Times (copyright © 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 22, 1971, p. 22.

Stanley Kauffmann

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

[Slag shows Hare] to be a prodigy. Slag is unfocussed and sometimes boring, but it is attractively articulate and theatrically at home….

The best aspect of the play is that Hare has taken a conventional comedy about a public-school staff and converted it internally into a macabre fantasy without much altering externals, rather in the manner of I. Compton-Burnett. Some of the materials are: a kind of mod Princess Ida, a female sanctum with males excluded and the results thereof; satire on cultural glibness; and, the seeming sine qua non of English playwrights these days, a microcosm of the fate of the Empire. None of these efforts wholly succeeds, largely because Hare never clarifies his viewpoint, he just has fun; but if Slag doesn't always hold interest, it always commands respect. One thing the play is bursting with is promise.

Stanley Kauffmann, in a review of "Slag" (copyright © 1971 by Stanley Kauffmann; reprinted by permission of Brandt and Brandt Literary Agents, Inc.), in The New Republic, Vol. 164, No. 11, March 13, 1971, p. 32.

Walter Kerr

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

["Slag" is] quite the dullest evening in town. There are just three women in it, which is a bit of a mistake to begin with since they all speak at a teakettle hiss, making one wish that a male voice were present or that refreshments would soon be served.

Nothing refreshing is served….

Hopping about the stage as though she'd just taken landing lessons from Peter Pan, [Joanne] is not really an advertisement for Fem Lib, unless we want to believe that Mr. Hare sees the Fem Lib crowd as altogether around the bend. Neither is she a sounding-board for provocative, or even mildly original, ideas. She is merely tiresome….

The other two are busy climbing to the roof and falling off (hey, any symbolism there?), playing hilarious practical jokes with collapsing chairs on one another, sucking one another's toes, and entering into sexual relationships…. One of the two becomes pregnant for a time, she says, but we are unable to pay much attention to that because [Joanne] has by this time put on a Ubangi mask and whipped out a toy machine gun.

What is so defeating about the evening is not the inscrutability of its message or even the monotony of its voice-work but the fact that playwright Hare never writes a line that makes you want to listen to the next. He is not even a good tease, there is no come-hither to his prose….

Walter Kerr, "A Brilliantly Drawn 'Line'," in The New York Times, Section 2 (copyright © 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 7, 1971, p. 3.∗

J. W. Lambert

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Teeth 'n' Smiles [is] simultaneously a metaphor for British society and an elegy for the vanished visions of the late Sixties, but a great deal more entertaining than that solemn summary might suggest. The time is 1969, the place a Cambridge college during a May Week ball (May Week balls are smart parties which the colleges hold in June). By way of keeping up with the times, the college has engaged a pop group to play…. [A] Storey-line is followed: the band arrives, messes about, plays, and departs. But it is a band in the throes of dissolution, like the kind of alternative culture it stands for. Mr. Hare on the face of it wishes us to feel with and for that alternative culture; but … he cannot as an artist conceal from himself or from us that it is no good. For all concerned it was a blind alley…. The group itself is all too obviously going nowhere as it lounges about playing feeble wordgames, injecting itself, mocking the nobs and occasionally playing … hollow songs amplified into pounding vacancy, while a contemptuous college servant and an eager-to-be-with-it little undergraduate come and go. They are all, in so far as their lives have any point or focus, the slaves of an enchantress. She, the singer, is at one point isolated in a striking theatrical image, keening in a pool of light while out of the darkness around snout-faces mutter their adoration; but mostly she is drunk or drugged, lost, miles adrift from her commonplace New Town girlhood but in sight of no other harbour…. [The] girl burns herself up, then slumps, sad or spiteful, her final act to set fire to the marquee where the rest of the world dances on. But there is no bitterness in Teeth 'n' Smiles: it too is often very funny as it charts the helplessness of a generation lost in a world of aimless sensation. (pp. 41-3)

J. W. Lambert, in a review of "Teeth 'n' Smiles," in Drama (reprinted by permission of the British Theatre Association), No. 119, Winter, 1975, pp. 41-3.

Irving Wardle

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

You might box [Fanshen] up as a documentary [of the Chinese agrarian reform movement], or as a didactic piece on the lines of Brecht's The Measures Taken: but, in this case, formal classification is no more helpful than using a learned medical term to explain away a virus…. Literally fanshen means "to turn the body": in the revolutionary vocabulary this means putting an end to feudalism—not only by expropriation of property, but by education, judicial reform, sexual equality, the whole process which Chekhov described as "casting out the slave in oneself".

There are two stock varieties of revolutionary drama: those that salute the glorious overthrow of the oppressors, and those that show the new regime going on to exceed the iniquities of the old. The point about Fanshen is that it bypasses this futile cycle, and shows a community that does not collapse into cynicism and corruption. All the violence comes at the start, with the village revolt against the landlords; then a Maoist work team move in and dissolve the local cadres. There are classification meetings, where property is reallocated; public tribunals, where officials come before peasant delegates to confess their mistakes. Everything is open to examination, except the case of remaking the community.

The production encourages you to look at the evidence with an equally open mind. It would take a determined bourgeois individualist to snigger at the characters as card-carrying boy scouts, chorusing the Internationale, and dropping lines like "I fanshened myself and forgot my poor brothers". All that is there; but it appears in a context that gradually forges a human link with an alien society and vindicates the new leaders as honest men….

Through the evening you get to know the rules. They may seem cold-blooded, or pious, or humourless: but by the end they make good sense. Nobody is watertight: nobody needs to despair: "Too many taxes under the Nationalists; too many meetings under the Communists", grumbles one of the peasants. It doesn't seem a bad exchange. Fanshen may not be much of a guide to modern China, but it tells us a good deal about ourselves.

Irving Wardle, in a review of "Fanshen," in The Times, London (© Times Newspapers Limited 1975), April 23, 1975, p. 15.

Ronald Bryden

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

[After] the first night of David Hare's Teeth 'n' Smiles, there seemed to be one name on everyone's lips—John Osborne. Wasn't it just like early Osborne, old Courtiers were saying. Didn't it carry you back to The Entertainer and those first, electric nights of Look Back in Anger? To which the answer, strictly and properly, should have been no, not really. I've never been among those who find it helpful to think of Bucharest as the Paris of the Balkans, nor would it strike me as flattering to call David Hare, or anyone else, the Osborne of the '70s. Still, because it was obviously shorthand and well-intended, I said yes, I saw what they meant…. [Teeth 'n' Smiles is] a play plugged deep into the rusty, defective socket of contemporary England, popping and sparking with anger at the connection.

The image is Hare's, more or less. For its first half hour or so, Teeth 'n' Smiles revolves slowly around an unconnected electric plug, centre stage. It powers, or ought to be powering, the amplifiers of Maggie Frisby's travelling rock-group, contracted to play at a Jesus College May ball in Cambridge, 1969, and already ninety minutes late. But the group say it's not working, and none of them will touch it … So the plug lies there useless, artfully gathering to itself a charge of mounting irritation from both sides of the footlights.

The British disease? Demarcation dispute? No, this is a skirmish in the latest battle of an older, undeclared war. When the plug is finally connected, musical aggro sprays itself over the theatre with a roar like machine guns. Teeth 'n' Smiles is about the challenge of pop music in the '60s to the way privilege has re-grouped itself in Britain since 1945: to the citadels of meritocracy, the playing-fields of competitive education, the boys and girls from good, booklined homes who climb effortlessly from grammar school to Oxbridge to the executive jobs advertised, alongside Heal's furniture and the latest biography of Virginia Woolf, in the columns of the Sunday Times. (p. 21)

Not that David Hare is naïve enough to suppose that the pop generation won the war, or even the particular battle of the '60s. He calls Teeth 'n' Smiles 'a history play' and its ending is as disillusioned and scathing an epitaph for the Beatle decade's army of mercenaries as any Osborne could devise. But he understands what the battle was about and mourns for its lost cause with a harsh tenderness which sometimes touches poetry….

[Maggie] knows the battle of pop has been lost and drowns her knowledge in whisky, deliberately wrecking performances which have become no more for her than ego-trips. Before the ball ends, she manages to burn down the wine tent. But that is small consolation for the lost dream of a popular culture which would overthrow the educational ladders which bear the fortunate few upward to their glittering prizes; which would turn the losers in the meritocratic race into winners. She can no longer bear the devotion of Arthur, the drop-out song-writer who launched her on her career, because he still half-clings to the dream and, the rest of the time, fashions an Auden-cum-Gershwin style from his despair. 'He's become a little overearnest for me, don't you think?' she tells Laura, the group's faithful, long-suffering press rep. 'I mean, if there was going to be a revolution it would have happened by now. I don't think 1970'll be the big year … Gimme the bottle'.

The play's main flaw is that it is as much Arthur's as Maggie's. Maggie is Hare's thought: his recognition that the pop millenium never arrived, never had the political stamina to do so, but turned instead into a generation of self-exposers flogging lost, frenzied hopes for a few years of cash and glitter. Arthur represents his emotions, and the university cleverness which has turned against itself, which makes him the more lifelike and interesting character. With his melancholy, self-mocking jokes and imitations of Astaire and Cole Porter, he almost softens Maggie's anger to a Cowardesque sigh of stylish regret at how impotent cheap music turned out to be. Maggie is in fact cleverer than her Svengali, and often funnier. 'Why would I rather be American than English?' she tells a student journalist. 'Because America is a crippled giant. England is a sick gnome'. She just isn't so believable. You can't swallow a joke like that from the Janis Joplin of the Home Counties. It's the voice of David Hare….

One can see why, in the bleak and austerer chapels of the theatrical Left, Hare is mistrusted for his excessive brilliance and success. Also why he himself would perhaps find it necessary to school himself to the Brechtian impersonality of Fanshen. There is a kind of over-willed, show-off quality to his writing, an intrusion of himself on his creations by trying too hard to be magisterial, which distorts Teeth 'n' Smiles even more than Knuckle, and brings to mind the young Auden of Dog Beneath the Skin. All the same, I hope he will follow the direction of the two latter plays rather than that of Fanshen, excellent though it was. It is the personal tensions in his talent, the tug between popularity and politics, display and distaste for his own cleverness, which make him one of the most interesting playwrights of the '70s so far. It is they which have made Teeth 'n' Smiles, for all its impurities, a success. Rage as it may, the far theatrical Left has nothing to teach him until it has realised that, without success, political purity is as impotent as cheap music. (p. 22)

Ronald Bryden, in a review of "Teeth 'n' Smiles" (© copyright Ronald Bryden 1975; reprinted with permission), in Plays and Players, Vol. 23, No. 2, November, 1975, pp. 21-2.

Peter Ansorge

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Hare is certainly the brightest literary satirist in the underground. His plays tend to reflect the self-enclosed and, finally, self-defeating society which surrounds middle-class 'progressive' groups…. Unlike many underground writers, he is able to satirize the pretensions of progressives as bitingly as those of reactionaries. A desire for revolution can also imply a purely middle-class endeavour to jump on the latest cultural or political bandwagon. (p. 11)

Although Slag provides a platform for a discussion of feminist views, which is frequently absent from our male-orientated theatres, the play lacks any genuine commitment to its central subject. Indeed Hare tends to treat the characters as chromosomes, stretching their roles and attitudes as a kind of theatrical experiment in a laboratory. His women are female pieces of elastic, mouthpieces for stretching and promptly snapping various fashionable notions about Women's Lib. Several of the scenes, such as the lesbian encounter between Elise and Ann, are included for pure literary parody (a boarding school version of Genet's all women The Maids), without serving any psychological or emotional truth. Finally Slag becomes an elaborate, extended literary joke.

Hare's more recent play The Great Exhibition, however, shows his talent for parody in a more constructive light. A disillusioned Labour MP, elected during the 1965 Labour landslide, has retreated from public life with the return to power of the Conservative Party in 1970. The MP, Charles Hammett, spends his days following his wife with the aid of a private detective named Abel. The wife, Maud, works as a casting director in the theatre. The play contains a great many references to role-playing, acting and exhibitionism…. Running through The Great Exhibition there is a parody of a whole generation of middle-class playwrights who have turned to working-class communities both for inspiration and as an escape from the more subtle dilemmas of their own environment and class…. Hare refuses to let his characters escape from the class to which they are confined. Hammett and Maud, like the teachers in Slag, are trapped; both by their backgrounds and by a love of exhibiting their neuroses to one another in a wholly self-obsessed world. But in The Great Exhibition, Hare reveals a concern for his characters which had been absent in his previous plays. Hammett's disillusionment with Parliament is real enough, and his calculated retreat into passivity is symptomatic of a genuine malaise…. Unlike many underground attacks on the 'System',… Hare approaches the corruption of the English body politic from the inside; showing us the subtle wounds which can fester at the centre as well as on the fringes of our society. (pp. 12-13)

Peter Ansorge, "Running Wild," in his Disrupting the Spectacle: Five Years of Experimental and Fringe Theatre in Britain (© Peter Ansorge 1975; reproduced by kind permission of A. & C. Black (Publishers) Ltd.), Pitman Publishing, 1975, pp. 1-21.∗

Anthony Curtis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Mr. Hare is a man in his early thirties, not his late sixties. He is writing about the world of his seniors, trying to diagnose its disease dramatically; [Plenty] has its origin in events that he can only have imagined as a fact of contemporary history rather than experienced directly. Moreover Mr. Hare has grown up in the period when our theatre has been let out of the confines of the single-setting play in which Rattigan and the managements for which he worked contained it. Mr. Hare has studied Brecht and he has a social conscience. He is one of a number of comparatively young English playwrights who have tried to introduce a more fluid kind of construction and have shown how a play may spread itself in time and space without losing concentration or depth. (p. 48)

[The role of Susan is] a part bursting with suppressed hysteria which totally dominates the piece from start to finish, and she makes it her own. What, asks Mr. Hare, is a woman who has lived so dangerously in occupied France for two or more years and survived the experience, to do afterwards? How can she fit into the England of Attlee, of Stafford Cripps, of Anthony Eden? Well, in real life they did. They outlived their heroism and accepted what they had to accept. They married, raised families, took jobs, gave dinner parties, wrote memoirs.

Here Susan … does or tries to do all of these things but there is in her a spirit of rebellion bred of disillusion that prevents her from finding any lasting satisfaction in them. Outwardly she lives the post-war life of a successful member of the British élite, job in PR, marriage to a career diplomat, elegant London apartment, circle of smart friends, money, security, responsibility, privilege: in a word, plenty; inwardly it all turns to dust and ashes. She refuses to play the game by the rules; eventually she begins to make up rules of her own and to play it by them. Some accepted values are brought under deadly attack from within the charmed circle. (pp. 48-9)

Susan's behaviour in her private life where she strikes out in cold-blooded rage, an early model of the liberated woman of the 1970s, is rather harder to take and has not inspired Mr. Hare to his best writing. She attempts to bear a child by a man whose sole function is to make her pregnant. He is a barrowboy around Festival of Britain time, and when he finds himself in love with her after her little experiment has failed she fires her gun at him. Her more permanent attachment to the underground comes through her relationship with a woman friend, a representative of the counter-culture …, with whom she to some extent satisfies her need for both affection and excitement but not for sex….

In a relatively light-hearted play Teeth N' Smiles, also structured around a dominating female role, Mr. Hare made his points much more rapidly. Here in his full-scale report on the British disease he shows signs of becoming ponderous, and also of a puerile desire to slip in tiresomely gratuitous blue jokes. He has nevertheless written what John Osborne used to call a 'play for England' which needs to be seen. (p. 49)

Anthony Curtis, in a review of "Plenty," in Drama (reprinted by permission of the British Theatre Association), No. 129, Summer, 1978, pp. 48-51.

Colin Ludlow

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

In a recent interview on television, David Hare declared that he is not a social doctor prescribing remedies for our national ills. Nevertheless, like most dramatists of his generation, he is concerned with diagnosing our social condition. The particular interest and originality of his plays lies in the immense variety of subject matter and styles he employs to illuminate that condition. In Teeth 'n' Smiles, he uses a rock band playing at a Cambridge May Ball as a framework for wider comment. In Knuckle, he adopts a thriller format. Fanshen tells the story of the Chinese revolution in a particular village employing a Brechtian narrative style. Brassneck, which he wrote with Howard Brenton, is an exuberant sweep through post-war British history, exposing the corruption and political in-fighting in an imaginary Midlands town. The effectiveness with which he handles these different styles and subjects reveals his considerable talent as a writer. (p. 76)

[In Plenty, the] history of Susan Traherne is traced through some twenty years. In that time, she is unable to find work she can believe in, she fails to become pregnant when she desires a child. She slips into marriage, but has decidedly ambivalent feelings towards her diplomat husband, and finally leaves him. The play is written with Hare's customary sharpness and wit, but the wit exposes suffering, it does not undercut it. In one devastating scene, set at the time of Suez, Susan and her husband entertain a senior diplomat, Sir Leonard Darwin, at their home in Knightsbridge. Susan's conversation is barbed with witty and scathing remarks which reveal, not a taste for drawing room humour, but genuine anguish and indignation at what has happened. There is more naked pain in Plenty than in any of Hare's previous work…. (pp. 76-7)

In his second full-length play, The Great Exhibition, Hare consciously parodies what he sees as the typical Royal Court play emphasizing characters who suffer. The plot is shamelessly lifted from Look Back in Anger: Charlie Hammett, a middleclass Labour MP, has an affair with his upper-class wife's best friend after his wife leaves him. However, the anguish of the characters involved in these events is not taken particularly seriously. Rather it is presented as self-indulgence and vigorously mocked. It is indicative of Hare's development therefore that if one seeks for parallels to Plenty, Look Back in Anger immediately springs to mind. Susan is no latter-day Jimmy Porter, mowing down all that she encounters with her rhetoric, nor has Plenty any of the sentimental romanticism found in Osborne's play. But both plays are rooted in the disappointed hopes of the immediate post-war years, in the pain of individuals who long for change but find it unforthcoming.

At the beginning of the final scene of Plenty, a dark hotel room suddenly separates like a curtain to reveal the green fields of France bathed in glorious sunshine on the day of liberation. It is a striking visual image for the dawn of a new age, and Susan's final words as she happily surveys this scene are 'There will be days and days and days like this'. They are heavy with irony, for the play has already shown the falseness of that dawn, the dampening of that joy. By relating Susan's experience to major historical events, Hare is able to suggest that her disillusion is representative rather than merely individual, and thus the play becomes a form of social commentary as it examines the general as well as the particular causes of Susan's problem.

The chief target for attack is not however the entire social and political system, it is the British characteristic of emotional reserve, the repression of feelings. Sir Leonard Darwin is afforded a certain respect in the play, because, however outdated his reasons, he expresses his outrage at the time of Suez over the government's failure to keep the Civil Service informed. It is the common lack of such courage, the general refusal to give vent to one's feelings and speak one's mind, that is implicitly suggested to be the cause of the stagnation in society which is at the root of Susan's pain. Susan herself, though quite prepared to let go and certainly not lacking the courage of her convictions, is nevertheless inhibited because there is nowhere she can direct her energy when surrounded by people who stoically accept their situation. As she herself remarks, 'I'd like to change everything but I don't know how.'

As a play for Britain in the late 'seventies, Plenty is perhaps limited by Hare's choice of subject matter. Though frustration at the absence of change may still be rife, the play is so firmly located in the disappointment of hopes aroused by the end of the war that it lacks immediacy to our present situation. The play feels historical rather than absolutely contemporary. Nevertheless, on the whole it succeeds because the character of Susan is powerfully and convincingly drawn, and because its broader social implications are neither laboured nor overstressed. It throws out provoking suggestions about the nature and problems of our society, but it does not reduce the complexity of these questions either by trying to pass off the story of one girl as an encapsulation of the entire situation, or by proposing facile solutions.

The lack of stridency in Plenty, its implicit rather than overtly argued social comment, have led some critics to conclude that it lacks substance and has nothing to say. This is pure laziness on their behalf, but it demonstrates the extent to which Hare refuses to prescribe cures for the problems he highlights. His plays are refreshingly understated for modern social and political drama. They cannot be reduced to a simple message, for his characters are not manipulated simply to prove a thesis. The power of his work is to provoke thought and disturb complacency. Certainly the study of suffering and waste in Plenty does no less than that. (pp. 77-8)

Colin Ludlow, "Hare & Others," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1978), Vol. 18, No. 4, July, 1978, pp. 76-81.∗

Ronald Hayman

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Susan is one of the best roles written for an actress since Brecht's Mutter Courage, and [Plenty] is Hare's best so far, but it is seriously flawed by its awkward division of focus between rotting psyche and rotten society. The implication is that the main causes of Susan's deterioration are social. We see her mouldering with discontent in a well-paid advertising job, and making rebellious gestures (like stealing food) when she is working for the 1951 Festival of Britain. After marrying a young diplomat, she discharges her indignation about Suez in the presence of an ambassador; later she threatens a high-ranking official that she will shoot herself unless her husband is promoted. Her freedom from inhibition, her determination, and her outspokenness are self-defeating and destructive, but she seems not only more courageous but more admirable than anyone else in the play. David Hare's attitude to her is obviously ambivalent, and this is damaging because it disqualifies him from providing us with a perspective. We are being invited to judge Susan without sufficient evidence. War naturally offers an outlet for aggressiveness which needs to be restrained in peace-time, but in so far as the play is arguing that her wartime experience is the cause of her subsequent difficulties, it fails to substantiate its point, and in so far as it is using her as a yardstick to hold up against the moral corruption of postwar England, it is perverse. The progressive abnormality of her behaviour makes her increasingly useless as a norm. Her frustration cannot but be read as a criticism of the society she lives in, but the portrayal of that society is fragmentary and inadequate. The characterization of the husband is pale and shallow. Apart from Susan, the only character in the play to engage David Hare's sympathy is Alice, her girl-friend, another deviant, who lives on the periphery of society, first as a writer and later as a social worker. But this is a badly written part, and the relationship between the two girls is never convincing. Alice's need for Susan's money is evident enough, but we never learn what it is in Alice that Susan likes or needs.

The paradox of the play is that it presents Susan as an individual, interesting because of the way her mind works, but that it seems to be written from the anti-individualistic premises which are still fashionable. Private behaviour must be explained in terms of social, political, and economic pressures. The Marxist theatrical theories Brecht evolved in the late Twenties and early Thirties had no effect on the English theatre until the late Fifties, but their influence is still dominant. (pp. 80-1)

Ronald Hayman, "The Politics of Hatred," in his British Theatre Since 1955: A Reassessment (© Ronald Hayman 1979; reprinted by permission of Oxford University Press), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1979, pp. 80-128.∗


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

As a narrative, David Hare's Dreams of Leaving … has the confined simplicity and elegance of an Eric Rohmer moral tale….

And yet the film is a disappointment, all the more frustrating for being so tantalizing, for offering elements that are never quite connected. In a Radio Times interview David Hare has said that in Dreams of Leaving he was trying "to push aside the business of being a teacher or a moralist". Perhaps in this remark lies the source of my frustration, for in this film Hare seems to have chosen a means of proceeding, through the use of voice-over, that is essentially moral: a man in early middle age looks back on his youth, and tells the wistful story of a failure of recognition. Conrad would have approved such a structure….

The film proclaims moral intent, moral progress from Innocence at the opening of the play—"I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know if it was breakfast or lunch"—to Wisdom at the end—"If anyone now asks me what I feel about these things …". Consciously or not, Hare has put himself in the business of delivering up meaning, or being a moralist, and I think he has evaded his responsibilities….

[Perhaps] Hare feels that in Dreams of Leaving he was making a clean break with the political and social concerns that have been at the centre of his previous work. And yet what is valuable in that work has been an insistence that private—especially sexual—relationships are not distinct from economic and political relationships. This was especially so in Licking Hitler and Plenty. And while Hare has had his share of flak from feminist critics, it cannot be complained that he has not tried to make sense, in dramatic terms, of that old saw of the Women's Movement, that the personal is political.

And, tantalizingly, in Dreams of Leaving all the material is present for a range of complex connexions to be made. The public world intrudes at every point in this non-love affair—the cynicism of the media, the corrupt art market, the whining narcissism of rock stars—but it remains an unassimilated backdrop. And there are times when William the narrator is suddenly objectified, his need for praise made so identifiably male, and Caroline's rejection of these needs—"be your own man"—so evidently endorsed by the author, that—again enticingly—it begins to seem as though larger meanings are about to impinge. Is William's failure to understand Caroline prompted by his failure to understand all women, by the pervasive scheme that casts Caroline as Madonna and the rest, William's girlfriends ("rather grim girlfriends, some of them well, not particularly nice"), as whores? Is that what Caroline's photographs of prostitutes are meant to suggest? If so, William's belated recognition that Caroline was not waving but drowning is insufficient.

And if Caroline's fasting or anorexia (which inflicts brain damage on her) is a logical extension of her detachment from life, her inability or refusal to take nourishment—at least from William—then the metaphor seems to cry out for development, for explanation. We need to know more about her madness. Is that madness or that isolation the price women must pay for their independence? William's conclusions nine years on ("Our lives dismay us. We know no comfort. PAUSE. We have dreams of leaving. Everyone I know.") are too frail, too precious in the face of such rich possibilities.

One can be too demanding of course. That the film is intriguing and elegant is never in doubt…. But Hare must be judged by the standards he has set himself. He chose a narrator, and ultimately the film has to stand or fall by what William eventually comes to understand of Caroline, of himself and, implicitly, of us all. To accept what the film's author has argued, that it is enough if people say to themselves "It may not say anything, but it's true" is to evade the crucial and dramatically necessary task of moral explication that he set himself here.

Ian McEwan, "Getting Out and Copping Out," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1980; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4009, January 25, 1980, p. 87.

Steve Grant

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Hare once confessed, albeit wryly, that he can only write about the middle classes; and while it is true that he can pen convincing dialogue for Chinese peasants or zonked-out rock musicians, his most memorable creations stem from the highly articulate but often emotionally sterile bourgeoisie. Hare is particularly concerned with the sufferings of intense and virulently honest people (often women) caught up in the cloying, claustrophobic and tightly knit society of establishment Britain, whether it be the suburban delights of stockbroker Guildford, the groves of academe or the post-Suez diplomatic service.

In Hare's plays the rules of the game are often the only important factors. Those who survive are those who know the rules. (p. 118)

Knuckle is a fascinating piece of writing, on one level an affectionate parody of the clipped style of the labyrinthine thriller, and indeed of the drama of parental discord (Curly's stockbroker father barely acknowledges the existence of his children while being engrossed in the novels of Henry James), on another a biting comment on the damaging effect of acquisitive life-styles on potentially worthwhile lives. Indeed, Curly's refusal to act on his knowledge comes as little surprise, given his rather bizarre defence of his own occupation—both as a reaction to his father's more respectable exploitation and as a service to world peace! And though Hare's satirical inclinations sometimes overbalance, there is a newly found compassion and concern in Knuckle that marks a new departure for its author. (p. 123)

[Teeth 'n' Smiles] is a fascinating piece, concerned as it is with youthful idealism and its wastefulness and self-delusion. Arthur, the pivotal figure, an ex-Cambridge student who dropped out to write songs and who is still madly in love with Maggie, represents the kind of moral earnestness which on a more academic level typifies the very university he has come to hate: the Leavisite belief in significance and intelligence coupled with the need for intellectual distancing. Arthur's rebellion is a front, an aesthetic illusion reinforced by his unhappy love affair with Maggie. Maggie's own gesture of taking the rap for the bust without complaint is itself equally futile, a self-defeating burst of nervous anarchic energy ("somebody's got to keep on the move"), little different in acid-dream essence from the more gross excesses of her musicians. The play fails to take into account the more impressive achievements of Cambridge intellectualism but in doing so it does not underestimate the power of the system that Cambridge is made to symbolize. The band may have insulted a few rich punters, stolen a few trinkets, and set fire to the champagne tent but the place remains barely touched….

As a piece of social history Teeth 'N' Smiles is prone to a certain subjectivity. Hare's picture of violent confrontation between working-class rock musicians and upper-class student twits seems particularly inaccurate. There was in fact far more mutual flattery between the two groups and far more collaborative good will. And while 1969 may seem a good time in which to set such a mournful play, coming as it does after the frustrated optimism of the previous year, the resulting thesis is a little too pat. Historical movements take a little time to permeate through the community. It could be argued that the kind of revolutionary, drug-orientated optimism of the '68 period did not escape the university campuses until much later. Nevertheless Teeth 'N' Smiles remains a fine achievement, not least because it was written for Hare's own generation and because it so mercilessly exposes the very weaknesses which others may, in moments of intellectual turpitude or easy idealism, mistake for strengths. (p. 124)

[In the critical response to Plenty] there was widespread and well-founded scepticism about Hare's attempt to relate Susan's own deeply felt and frenzied experiences to the wider context of post-war Britain. This was most successful in its relation to the decline of ethical standards in Brock's own field, in which his first boss, Darwin, is shown failing to recover from the treachery of Suez while his later boss, Charleson, is only concerned with the rules: "Behaviour is all" he intones when Susan threatens suicide in an attempt to save Brock's crumbling diplomatic career. Even more problematic is the overall attitude to Susan herself, whose often maddening and elitist posturings destroy any prior sympathy for her one-woman protest movement. She shoots at the failed father of her unborn child and when Brock calls her "selfish, brutish, unkind" in a blazing stand-up row the comment seems truer than the author would obviously care to believe. Nevertheless Plenty is an impressive work, splendidly witty and meticulous in its reconstruction of educated, diplomatic conversation. Of the female characters only Susan comes close to being a rounded creation but, in this creation of Susan, Hare has written his most colossal role to date. Judged as a yardstick for human behaviour her brand of rebellion has met with some daunting attacks from Hare's erstwhile fellow travellers in the more austere corridors of the fringe, and he remains a suspicious and often uneasy figure in such circles. However, his intelligence, despite its tendency towards show-off cleverness, and his moral sense, despite its occasional degeneration into a superior moralizing tone, make him an intriguing and important talent. (p. 126)

Steve Grant, "Voicing the Protest: The New Writers," in Dreams and Deconstructions: Alternative Theatre in Britain, edited by Sandy Craig (copyright © Amber Lane Press Limited, 1980), Amber Lane Press, 1980, pp. 116-44.∗

Jack Kroll

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

If the British playwrights of the '50s and '60s were Angry Young Men, then those of the '70s and '80s are Furious. Writers like David Hare have brought a new passion to their plays that has often discomfited and shocked audiences, but has carried their work from the little "fringe" theaters to the West End commercial houses and the subsidized battlements of the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. This passion is neither narrowly political nor personal; Hare and his generation are fiercely concerned for the quality of life as it touches everyone in his most intimate or public aspects, from sex to socialism, from economics to anxiety. Strongly individual, these writers also feel a common bond, symbolized in the controversial play about a sensational rape case, "Lay By," which was written collectively by seven of them—Hare, Howard Brenton, Brian Clark, Trevor Griffiths, Stephen Poliakoff, Hugh Stoddart and Snoo Wilson. These fiery dramatists have exploded the legend of English cool, and none has more fire than the 33-year-old Hare….

With astonishing ease, Hare crams a great deal of material into his panoramic but intimate play [Plenty], whose moods range from a sharp-witted Coward-like comedy to a Brechtian synthesis of historic forces and personal destiny. He plays clever games with his audience, starting the play with a naked, blood-smeared man on a bed; starting another scene with a parachute jumper hitting the darkened stage in a billow of white silk; having Susan end her relationship with her unsuccessful impregnator by emptying a revolver in his direction. These tricks always become part of a meaningful and dynamic design. Hare's central insight is that the dislocations of our time have forced many valuable and sensitive people into a demoralized state that is hard to distinguish from madness—and may be a kind of madness. Susan is idealistic, intelligent, irrational, sentimental, funny, tiresome, exasperating and exciting—a human chaos trying to wrench herself into some kind of order.

Jack Kroll, "From England with Fury," in Newsweek (copyright 1981, by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. XCVII, No. 12, March 23, 1981, p. 82.

Leo Sauvage

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Hare belongs to the school of promising young English playwrights who have been influenced by John Osborne and often have something to say, though it is not always easy to follow.

His play is called Knuckle, and both the title and the text are somewhat perplexing. Despite the use of the singular, I imagine the title is meant to suggest the pitiless use of brass knuckles. The play is conceived and developed as a cold-blooded drama of suspense; it is harsh and hard-hitting, leaving no room for the expression of emotions…. Hare fitfully tries to heighten the suspense by occasionally drawing upon the "theater of cruelty" that was in fashion at the Royal Court during the time he spent there.

"Mickey Spillane" is the password to understanding Hare's intent. When directly addressing the audience, Curly Delafield, the main character, mentions Spillane as a symbol, though not an explanation, of what he is and of the situation he is facing. But Hare is not merely concerned with solving a possible crime. Behind the Spillanian mask there is a social critic, and toward the end of the play we realize that the author is applying his brass knuckles to a certain class of society rather than to individual criminals….

When the story begins, Curly has not seen his father or his sister for 12 years. After reading in the newspapers that Sarah has disappeared somewhere on a beach, leaving only her raincoat with two first-class train tickets in the pocket, he decides to return home and find out what happened….

Though Sarah never appears on stage, she is really the central character of the play. She is the person we come to know best as she is progressively depicted in the descriptions Curly extracts from reluctant witnesses. About the witnesses, and Curly himself, little is revealed; the author seems satisfied to leave them mysterious.

No attempt is made, either, to explain the conduct of the man Sarah, Curly and Hare hate most: Patrick, the goodlooking, well-mannered, absolutely heartless father. He calmly tells his son that if he let the suicidal Sarah walk off on a deserted beach, nude under her raincoat, it was because he had an important business appointment in the morning. Is this a further indication of the type of people whose existence justifies Curly's running away?…

I shall not divulge the plot and surprises of Knuckle, since one is not supposed to do that with a mystery thriller. In any case, it would be difficult for me to reveal much, for I lost my way among Hare's digressions, blind alleys and red herrings….

The play is nevertheless far from boring. With the exception of one ugly incident, Hare and [director Geoffrey] Sherman succeed in maintaining a matter-of-fact style that is not without humor. (p. 20)

Leo Sauvage, "Rhythm and Rebellion," in The New Leader (© 1981 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), Vol. LXIV, No. 7, April 6, 1981, pp. 19-20.∗

Frank Rich

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

It's not until late in Act II that the audience hears the noise of breaking glass in David Hare's "Plenty," but long before then, we've become terribly familiar with the harrowing sound of things going smash. A partial list of the evening's casualties would include at least three lives, one empire (the British), the egalitarian ideals of a generation and many of the conventions of the traditional narrative play.

But if this sounds reckless, Mr. Hare is no indiscriminate vandal. Out of the bloody shards of the ruins, this young British playwright has meticulously erected an explosive theatrical vision of a world that was won and lost during and after World War II. (p. 394)

Mr. Hare tells Susan's tale in a dozen scenes that are ripped out of chronological order. His play's structure, which can be slightly confusing, employs flashback, flashforward and in media res. While it's a jigsaw puzzle that only comes together at the end, it's no gimmick: Mr. Hare has found a visceral theatrical embodiment for the central tension in his heroine's soul. The France of the 1940's is always as much in focus as the modern England of Suez and rampant commercialization; we constantly see each setting refracted through the other.

The liberated chronology also allows the author to crystallize his highly selective story and character details; he strips away psychological, plot and ideological exposition to achieve a concentrated naturalism. Susan, like the Hedda Gabler she sometimes resembles (gun included), is an incandescent, troubling force who doesn't have to be explained away: we see her in context and she just is. As [Susan says to Raymond, her husband-to-be,] in their first meeting, "I tell you nothing—I just say look at me and make a judgment." That complicated judgment, which is ultimately asked from all of us, is the incendiary crux of the play.

The writing's jagged fractionalization further gives "Plenty" a hallucinatory, nightmarish quality that makes it feel more like a disorienting Nicholas Roeg film than John Osborne's "Look Back in Anger." (pp. 394-95)

The dialogue within each scene is often a tour de force interweaving subliminal rage, ellipses and caustic wit. Mr. Hare doesn't waste words, and the ones he uses are crackling, whether they deal with the dreary English climate (even "passion comes down at you through a blocked nose") or the internecine politics of a Foreign Service that requires 6,000 officers to dismantle an empire that once only took 600 men to run. In the play's most remarkable scene—a diplomatic party in the midst of the Suez debacle—a grueling marital fight is blended in with an anguished political debate, comical small talk about an Ingmar Bergman film and the hilarious malapropisms of a sycophantic Burmese ambassador….

[In] Mr. Hare's view, Susan is perhaps more responsible for [the failings of British civilization] than anyone around her. If the author believes that idealists have a right to "a kind of impatience" with a world that betrays their noble, hard-won victories, he also seems to feel that Susan should have struggled anew for those ideals rather than "lose control" by giving in to bitterness and cynicism. And, of course, his perspective applies not only to World War II Resistance fighters, but also to the endless waves of defeated idealists who came before and after.

That's why the sharp edges of this relentlessly gripping play reach beyond its specific milieu to puncture our conscience. It's also why "Plenty" pointedly ends not with its heroine's defeat, but with a blazing tableau in which the young, innocent Susan of 1944 climbs a bucolic hill to "get a better view" of the newly liberated France that once promised her a utopian future. In "Plenty," Mr. Hare asks that we, too, climb up to reclaim a "better view"—but not before he has shaken us violently at the bottom of that hill, not before he's forced us to examine just how we choose to live in our own world of plenty right now. (p. 395)

Frank Rich, "Drama: From Britain, 'Plenty' by David Hare," in The New York Times (copyright © 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 22, 1982 (and reprinted in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews, Vol. XLIV, No. 1, January 1, 1983, pp. 394-95).

Walter Kerr

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The flaw in [the plotting of "Plenty"] becomes apparent fairly early. A British commando comes down, fighting to disentangle himself from his parachute, in occupied France during World War II. He is almost immediately looking directly into the barrel of a pistol. It is held by a nervous girl in a trench coat (Kate Nelligan) who is as British as he. She is working with the French Resistance and, once she has accepted his credentials, she is able to give him vital tips on avoiding the Gestapo. As their hurried meeting is about to come to a close, she does an odd, impulsive thing. Grateful to see a compatriot whose name she doesn't and must not know, exhausted from her labors and rattled by tensions, courageous and proud and still not at all eager to die, she lurches into the young man's arms, clinging to him awkwardly, the tips of her toes barely touching the ground. The embrace is quickly over, her unwanted tears are brushed away, the two part as anonymously as they have met and—it would seem—psychically fused. The play moves on into the postwar world….

But everything that happens to this woman (and to her country) becomes dependent on that one fleeting embrace in France "beneath a mackerel sky." A few seconds of ecstasy, of mysterious fulfillment, have blocked her forever. Even when she is proposing to a young lower-class musician that he father her baby and promptly disappear, the comparison with the past intrudes. It is New Year's Eve and the young man's attention is briefly distracted by some fireworks. She looks upward with him but can only remember her "mackerel sky." The finally enraged [husband] sums up what's been happening: "You claim to be protecting some personal ideal, always at a cost of almost infinite pain to everyone around you." [Susan] will, nonetheless, go her haughty, coolly cynical, everlastingly stubborn way. To hang so much on a brief early passage means that the passage must be so powerful, so moving, so commanding that we will accept the total control it exercises over nine subsequent scenes. And that kind of magic it simply does not possess. Even so, we cling to the play because we know that at almost any moment one or another of its frosty figures will adopt a look of wry sobriety and let fly with a lively, well-spoken paragraph or two. (There is something of the novelist about Mr. Hare, but whatever he puts into paragraphs proves to be eminently actable.)…

"Plenty" is an essentially distant and disillusioned piece of work regularly rescued by original people with lively tongues. (p. 3)

Walter Kerr, "Playwrights Are Growing Articulate Again," in The New York Times (copyright © 1982 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 31, 1982, pp. 3, 17.∗

John Simon

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

David Hare once observed that his plays were intended as puzzles for the audience to solve…. But Plenty … though far more disciplined than his previous offerings, is not a conundrum, merely a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces all too knowingly scrambled. In the end, after milking this purposive disarray for its maximum ironic value, Hare himself unriddles everything for us. We are left as spectators of not so much a play as a display: impressed, sometimes entertained, often dazzled. But quite unmoved. (p. 82)

[The point of Plenty] is not so much the story as the cunning way in which it is fragmented and skips back and forth in time. Some of this is to keep us guessing, surprised, and a bit bewildered; some of it is to underscore, often heavily, certain ironies about Britain's history, betrayed aspirations, and decline. As in all his plays, Hare keeps, directly or indirectly, jocularly or bitterly, excoriating his country; here it is chiefly done by canny juxtapositions that, alas, come at the expense of cumulative strength: too many fragments, too much empty space around them, and a disorienting inconsistency of tone.

For we go from documentary realism to fanciful satire, from scenes that are pure drawing-room comedy to others that drip with gall. Absurdism waits in the wings, sometimes letting its toes protrude; ironically understated faces stick out a homiletic tongue. Finally, it is Hare's virtue that does him in: The cool, cerebral sardonicism that unpassions both the attacks on postwar "normality" and Susan's "abnormal" reactions becomes, in the end, self-defeating. Somewhere between Shaw and Osborne, Pinter and Rattigan, the play's backside lands on the floor.

Moreover, I am tired of the axiomatic, unanalyzed proposition that a bad society causes individual insanity. True, Hare at last permits the long-put-upon Raymond a denunciation of Susan's selfishness and living in the past, but it's too little and too late. Worse yet, the exhilaration of the war years is presented in terms of an Errol Flynn movie—insufficient counterweight to all that postwar indignation. Yet it must be conceded that Hare knows how to write a scene, a line, an epigram, and that his darts—hurled at a variety of figures chiefly from the diplomatic world—are not merely poisoned but also go straight to the mark. (pp. 82-3)

Interesting, in fact, is the word for Plenty: It tickles our funny bone, nerves, and sense of the theatrical; too bad that the heart—and sometimes even the head—remains unengaged. (p. 83)

John Simon, "Too Much Heart? Too Much Brain?" in New York Magazine (copyright © 1984 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 15, No. 43, November 1, 1982, pp. 81-3.∗

Robert Brustein

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

[Plenty] is an ambitious effort to create a comprehensive X-ray of England's soul following World War II. Taking social fluoroscopes is an important, even crucial, dramatic function—it was Chekhov's motive in The Cherry Orchard, for example, and Shaw's in Heartbreak House—though such tasks have grown more difficult as the diagnostics have grown more complicated. I don't think Hare entirely accomplishes his intention, but I honor him for it, and pray it has a salutary influence on American playwrights, most of whom are still engaged in counting kitchen angels on the heads of domestic pins….

It is Hare's conviction that World War II represented England's last heroic moment (the play was written before the Falkland victory restored some of the country's lost pride), after which it experienced a series of demoralizing deceptions and compromises, tied to the loss of empire. Ironically, this was a time of relative affluence, an era of peace and plenty; it was also a period when the relationship between the individual and the family, between the individual and society, began to break down. Susan Traherne is not Everywoman, but her condition is representative of the entire English middle class in showing an intelligent, spirited, delicately poised human being pulverized by the failures of her time.

This demonstration, however, along with a somewhat shaky structure, exposes the most uncertain aspect of the play, for it assigns purely social causes to problems that may at least be partially existential. Hare doesn't provide enough information about Susan Traherne to define her conscious or unconscious motivations with an exactitude, but he intentionally idealizes her wartime experience, and even returns to it in a final flashback when she appears, young and innocent in a flower dress, to say: "We have grown up. We will improve our world." The postwar world, however, doesn't improve, and neither does Susan. (p. 24)

The climactic event in [the lives of Susan and her husband], and the greatest source of disillusion for their generation, is Suez, when Britain under Eden made a halfhearted final effort to preserve the Empire: "Nobody will say blunder, international farce," Susan stridently announces at a formal dinner, "Nobody will say death rattle of the ruling class." In the grip of mental illness, embittered, out of control, Susan enacts her "psychiatric cabaret," haunted by memories of wartime France, of the time when British soldiers last landed in a country where they were wanted.

It is the most resonant scene in the play, for it tells the tragic story of many wars after World War II—America's Vietnam, Israel's Lebanon, one suspects Soviet Russia's Afghanistan—wars that instead of uniting the people, divided them. It is an event that leads to the death of one of Hare's most interesting characters, Leonard Darwin, the ambassador who served as Brock's mentor, after Darwin has lost all belief in his calling as a result of the country's bad faith. But fiascos like Suez are not enough to explain Susan's addiction to drink and drugs, her suicide attempts, or her indifference about sleeping, as she says, with men that she knows. Nor does the plea of affluence, though it is one that Susan herself suggests: "Too much money, I think that's what went wrong. Corrupts the will to live." There is truth in the remark, but also the motive hunting of a free floating, perhaps motiveless, disenchantment, which, like Iago's evil, is responsible for extreme, inexplicable acts that defy explanation. In one scene (worthy of Strindberg), she decides to give away her house in Knightsbridge, strips it, throwing priceless antiques out of the window, and finally takes a shot at her infuriated husband after he threatens to have her committed.

Still, if Hare is not enough of a poet to penetrate Susan's despair, he is enough of a playwright to dramatize it; and he is a gifted artificer of blistering, lacerating dialogue. (pp. 24-5)

Plenty is compromised by incompleteness and structural asymmetry (I suspect the scenes in France originally sandwiched the play that is preferable to making the first one a flashback), but it is undeniably alive. For once, the problems come from being too close to the object, not from manipulating it by remote control. (p. 25)

Robert Brustein, "Good and Plenty" (© 1982 The New Republic, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the author), in The New Republic, Vol. 187, No. 21, November 29, 1982, pp. 24-6.∗

John James

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

On the face of it A Map Of The World is a serious play about important issues. It takes in world poverty; third-world emergent nationalism; the decay of western civilization; art and expression; the artist's pursuit of truth and his freedom to express it; the nature of fiction; Capitalism; Marxism; Zionism; sexual expression hetero, homo and bi….

[An] outline does little justice to the sparkling humour and polemical seriousness of Hare's new play. But it indicates the confusion arising from actors playing real people playing actors playing them. Contrary to his publicly televised assertion …, what is real and what is acted is not "absolutely clear" in performance. His claim that Stephen's final abusive tirade marks his discovery of belief in something is absurd. The plot's absurdities are bosh. Would a rabid anti-Marxist be invited to making the keynote speech at such a UNESCO conference? Would a nonentity like Stephen be allowed to endanger an international meeting? Would either man argue it out to sleep with dimwit Peggy?

The fatal flaw which destroys A Map Of The World is the film within the play device. By it we are confronted with people passionately arguing over real issues who, at the point of commitment, are shown to be unthinking, uncaring actors who don't believe a word they say. What price sincerity when, in a significant addition to the published text, Elaine asks of actress Peggy's real emotional involvement: "What for? she doesn't get paid more for feeling"?… [Mehta, spokesman for the right] wins hands down though, arbitrarily, Hare denies him the prize.

Hare's other attempts to put him down won't stick and Mehta is left not, as Hare says, defeated, but mouthing the unobjectionable platitude: "This feeling that we may change things is at our centre—lose that, lose everything". Sincere regard for truth is the casualty in A Map Of The World; the playwright's cleverness scuppers it—"lose that, lose everything".

John James, "On Being Too Clever," in The Times Educational Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1983; reproduced from The Times Educational Supplement by permission), No. 3475, February 4, 1983, p. 25.

John Hope Mason

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Despite the large claims David Hare's early plays made to be describing the state of England, there was always a danger that the general view, the overall verdict, would collapse into a purely local and personal reaction. This was particularly the case with Plenty, where what set out to be a chronicle of disappointment at the unfulfilled promise of Britain's post-war history came across more as a projection back onto it of disappointment at the unfulfilled promise of the 1960s. Hare is too good a writer and too accomplished a playwright not to have made Plenty a strong theatrical experience, but the underlying difficulty remained.

In his new play, A Map of the World, he has confronted this difficulty—the relationship between individual experience and general judgment—in the context not of England but of the world. The difficulty is not completely resolved—in part because other concerns are equally pressing—but that is less important than the courage Hare shows in grasping this particular nettle and the tenacity with which he follows his theme through to its conclusion. In the end the play lives up to its high ambition.

The action shifts between a film studio in England and a Unesco conference on poverty in Bombay. Among those invited to speak at the conference is a famous Indian novelist, Victor Mehta…. Mehta has little respect for the United Nations and even less for Marxist reformers; he sees self-deception everywhere and regards that as worse than poverty. As a writer he is dedicated to exposing lies wherever they occur, however uncomfortable the results may be.

Also present at the conference is a young, idealistic, left-wing English journalist, and the clash between him and Mehta creates the dynamic of the play. Both men are affected by the other's beliefs and both are altered by their meeting. Back in England Mehta writes a book about the conference and this is now being turned into a film. A beautiful American actress had also been in Bombay and the two men's pursuit of her—Mehta later marries her—provides the romantic interest of the film.

There is much that is unsatisfactory about this material. The framework of the film studio is cumbersome and adds little of consequence. Neither the fact that the film trivializes the serious issues of the conference, nor the suggestion that people in England are interested only in sex and cars, is sufficiently well realized to justify these scenes. The only exception to this is the final scene, which introduces a new dimension and gives an impressive ending to the play.

The romantic theme is also perfunctory. The part of the American actress … is underwritten and hardly binds the narrative together in the way that was intended. As in other Hare plays love is more suggested than expressed. Here, where it is meant to be central to the action, its absence is glaring.

This lack of definition applies more generally. There is a lack of texture, of idiom, that is unusual in Hare's writing. Both the film world and the conference world have a disembodied, insubstantial feel about them. Everyone seems to be in transit. In one sense this could be a true reflection both of film studios and of life in India, where the visitor does indeed feel insubstantial beside the vast immobility of Indian life. But in the theatre we need something more specific to engage us, and that is something which the play takes a long time to deliver.

But eventually it does deliver. We see the pain of the world, poverty and injustice, first from one angle, then from another. Each view inspires different questions, and at each point the truth comes to look different…. Our reservations fall away as we come closer and closer to the matter in hand; the survival of idealism, the possibility of change.

John Hope Mason, "The Survival of Idealism," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1983; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4167, February 11, 1983, p. 132.

John Russell Taylor

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Contrary to popular opinion, I can see nothing very mystifying about the construction of David Hare's new play A Map of the World …—except why he should have wanted to put it together that way in the first place. The principal action concerns emotional sparring and sexual rivalry going on in the margins of some U N conference on world poverty set in a plush Bombay hotel. The annexed material, as it were, is introduced smartly at the end of the first scene, by a quick dissolve … to a film studio where, a few years later, Hollywood-on-Thames is in the midst of travestying the novel one of the characters we have just met wrote about the whole business. From then on we go back and forth, but mostly back, with occasional interludes in the film-making present, until the last section …, when we settle to the present with a vengeance.

I suppose the structure must have some sort of ironic talent. But since we see only one absurd scenelet which unmistakably belongs to the film rather than life, we have to take it on trust that literary mayhem is being committed. But the to-ing and fro-ing does at least distract us a bit from the vacuity of the central story. Not to mention its creeping implausibility. (p. 30)

Does one believe that everyone at the conference expects it to change the world, but only if the novelist makes his speech without interference? Does one believe that all these people can have got so intensely involved in less than 24 hours, or that everyone else would be so concerned over and unwillingly admiring of the silly young Briton? Does one, for that matter, believe for a moment that any of these characters exist at all? The answer to all those questions becomes more and more clearly No as the evening progresses. The two women, sentimentalised into nonentity by the author … are neither here nor there. But with the men we are on more dangerous ground.

I suspect that one problem is a miscalculation on Hare's part as to the attitudes his audience comes in with. He seems to presume that they are all, to a man, heterosexual Guardian-readers who will instantly identify with simple Stephen. To counteract this, he has so built up Mehta's charm and plausibility that he seems to run away with the play, and when Stephen suddenly announces that he has grown up, produces a devastating exposé of Mehta's shallowness (in a debate staged in competition over the actress's favours the following night!) and then sweeps off to die (why?) in a nearby train crash, we just flatly refuse to believe it…. I will agree that since Hare is no fool as a playwright there is quite a lot of crackling talk and, for the first two-thirds at least, the play is seldom boring. I will even agree that technically the production (by Hare himself) is conspicuously well managed.

But did anyone ever stop to think what the play is essentially about, or to wonder why subjects like homosexuality are so arbitrarily dragged in …? Perhaps someone else to direct would have forced Hare to answer a few questions about his own work which could hardly have helped making the play a lot less cockeyed than it is. (pp. 30-1)

John Russell Taylor, in a review of "A Map of the World," in Plays and Players (© copyright Brevet Publishing Ltd 1983; reprinted with permission of the publisher), No. 354, March, 1983, pp. 30-1.

Jonathan Myerson

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Perhaps because Hare is looking at subjects new to his repertoire [in A Map of the World], its ideas are rather disparate: he seems to be talking about Third World Funding, Zionism, How We Argue, The distorting Power of Fiction/Reporting and Sexual Rivalry—all at once. These ideas may be spread thin in the course of the play, but it does not make them any less stimulating and forceful; also, while he seems to be moving away from outright criticism of British institutions and mores, there is a great deal of muck thrown at British arrogance and its dictatorial attitude to the Third World. To contrast this English rejection of the Third World, Hare offers a spark of hope; the strength of utopianism in a world still finding its feet….

A Map of the World marks a change in Hare's work not only for the move from England's Establishment, but also for the hope and optimism that Hare has found in the Third World.

This brings Hare to his furthest remove from his Fringe beginnings: a play taking its title from Wilde, toying with the artificiality of the theatre (a device currently being employed in the West End by Stoppard and Frayn as well), long, articulate dialogues, and on at the National (whose production values his scripts demand). And this is what Hare does best—stinging wit followed by undercutting honesty. But, sadly, the move from personal suffering to public polemic has left his characters high and dry, with nowhere to exist beyond their attitudes. Hare's forte is for real characters, not people on soap-boxes. Moreover, for the first time he is writing about characters who develop feelings for each other rather than remain emotionally fenced off. This new departure is not totally successful.

But to think that David Hare has given up grabbing audiences by the throat would be naive. He sums it up thus: "I never wish to underestimate the opposition. If a play is to be a weapon in the class war then the weapon is not going to be the things you are saying; it is the interaction of what you are saying and the audience is thinking. The play is in the air." Although Hare's skills have made him the most successful of his generation at forging this interaction, he has never seemed a natural playwright—more a polemicist, a pamphleteer forced to write Platonic dialogues. His plays work because the dialogue is continually entertaining and intriguing, though it can take some curious turns. When the individual Hare sentences are brought together into a play, they often seem ill at ease. The freedom of film and television … may allow him the chance to open his ideas out, to test them in action, not merely parade them in the drawing-room—but it is harder to shock your audience that way. (p. 28)

Jonathan Myerson, "David Hare: Fringe Graduate," in Drama (reprinted by permission of the British Theatre Association), No. 149, Autumn, 1983, pp. 26-8.


Hare, David (Vol. 132)