THE ABSENCE OF WAR
by David Hare.
Tour to 9 May 2015.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 April at Oxford Playhouse.
Tragedy of a good man in politics well revived.
Last of ‘The Hare Trilogy’, three large-scale plays where David Hare examined English institutions – Church, judiciary, and politics – The Absence of War is a tragedy distinct from Racing Demon or Murmuring Judges.
The tragic focus is important, with allusions to events and relationships between politicos around the 1992 General Election having melted into modern history. Two-party politics and an overall majority, themselves seem history (though a hung parliament had been predicted then), while UKIP was just one month old when the play opened in the Olivier Theatre.
It was before New Labour solidified under next-but-one leader Tony Blair, amidst changes glimpsed in Hare’s play. As fact-based fiction, it reinforces, alongside his presence in Robin Soans’ Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage (also touring this spring), Neil Kinnock as the last major party leader who was a smoker.
As evidence the play’s no documentary, party leader George Jones migrates in accent from London, as played by John Thaw, to Sheffield with Yorkshire-born Reece Dinsdale in Jeremy Herrin’s typically pointed revival for Headlong Theatre.
It’s apt for a production originating at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.And because Sheffield was the place of Labour’s major broadcast rally a week before the 1992 Election. Hare makes it the moment of Jones’ breakdown, his initially impassioned personal statement faltering as layers of focus-grouped, policy-adviser mentality wash over it.
The Sheffield rally was actually the culmination of packaging a politician, a US-style promo-event where Kinnock, far from faltering, became a grinning triumphalist robot. Hare transforms it to the culmination of a personal tragedy for a leader who failed to do the hard slog of absorbing facts and policies, then had nothing left when the idealism ran out of things to say. Amid the busy world of smart-talking, nervily active Party people and the swift-shifting anonymous screens in Mike Britton’s design, Dinsdale depicts the man sinking in front of a mass audience.
The story’s outlined in the music as hints of two composers surface. The public dignity of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ matches the framing Cenotaph ceremonies, while Wagner’s funeral music for the Ring Cycle’s doomed hero Siegfried accompanies Jones’ defeat.
Rt Hon George Jones MP: Reece Dinsdale.
Andrew Buchan: James Harkness.
Oliver Dix: Cyril Nri.
Gwenda Aaron: Maggie McCarthy.
Mary Housego: Amiera Darwish.
Lindsay Fontaine: Charlotte Lucas.
Rt Hon Malcolm Pryce MP: Gyuri Sarossy.
Bruce: Theo Cowan.
Rt Hon Bryden Thomas MP: Barry McCarthy.
Vera Klein: Helen Ryan.
Rt Hon Charles Kendrick MP/Linus Frank: Don Gallagher.
Trevor Avery: Ekow Quartey.
Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Designer/Costume: Mike Britton.
Lighting: Lucy Carter.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Video: Ian William Galloway.
Movement: Anna Morrissey.
Associate director: Hannah Bannister.
8-11 Apr Wed, Thu, Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
14-25 Apr 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Rose Theatre Kingston 020 8174 0090 www.rosetheatrekingston.org
28 Apr-2 May 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
5-9 May Tue, Wed 7.30pm; Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed, Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk