Beat the Devil by David Hare. The Bridge Theatre, Potters Field, London SE1 2SG selected dates until 31 October 2020. 4****. William Russell.

In this angry, funny and stimulating monologue Ralph Fiennes delivers Hare’s blistering and furious account of being struck down by the Coronavirus with perfect timing. It is a masterly performance, a reminder of just what a fine actor Fiennes is. The material is Hare at his most corruscating as he tells what it was like to be struck down, how the disease developed, and what he thinks of those who run the country. It wasn’t a pleasant illness and they are fools.
The Bridge theatre would normally seat 900 but now it has been whittled down to a socially responsible 250 all masked. The set is simple, some screens and a desk and chair for Fiennes to use. But this is not theatre for the eyes. It is the theatre of words and Hare’s account of how his illness progressed holds the attention throughout as he assails the follies of the Government, noting to the delight of the audience that one thing he learned from having the illness was to take it easy. “I know not to go back to running the country,” he adds.
We learn the physical details, the way everything seems to taste of urine, the appalling night sweats, how his wife Nicole Fahri reacts, the fatigue, the pains, and how his anger mounts as the Government’s handling of events just gets worse and worse and ever more confused and confusing.
In the end, of course, he says what one wants to know is the truth – and that silences the audience. If serious theatre had to re-open with something this is as memorable a piece as could be, one people will look back at in years to come.

Ralph Fiennes.
Director: Nicholas Hytner.
Design: Bunny Christie.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Music: George Fenton.
Photograph: Manuel Harlan.

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