Encore Theatre Magazine
:: Monday, July 10, 2006 ::
This magazine has often knocked the work of David Hare and not without reason. He must be the most waspish, preening, and overrated playwright currently writing, incapable of making one of his insufferable statements on anything without surreptitiously redesigning and redefining the world in his image and thereby unsubtly bigging himself up.
This is not to say that Sir David has never written anything good. Encore is quite fond of Racing Demon and was once impressed by Fanshen. There are things to admire about Plenty. More recently the pickings have been slimmer, but we had a sneaking admiration for The Permanent Way. But Sir David, if you want to be remembered fondly, or remembered at all, it might be wise to put a discreet block on the lesser moments of your writing life. Banish The Judas Kiss to the wilderness. Let Murmuring Judges join it there. They can play with Map of the World and Skylight, which should join the gang. The Breath of Life can watch over them, while Stuff Happens struts about self-importantly on the perimeter. Oh, and your wretched versions of Brecht and Lorca could also join the Sir David Hare Memorial Landfill Site too.
But of all of your plays, the one which you simply must - if only for reasons of canonical self-preservation - obliterate from the record is Amy's View. Evidently the worst play of the twentieth century, it's a disastrous attempt to write a sentimental hymn to the virtues of theatre, based on the vicissitudes of a grand dame of the stage. As you'll remember it is actionless - though not actually plotless - and as a result very dull. You'll recall with embarassment how on the first night those witty asides about contemporary television just came off as blimpish and smug. You'll remember the awful flaw in the structure that required the audience to sympathise with Esme - for, incredibly, that is what you called your protagonist - because she was a Lloyd's name and faced bankrupcy, as if this revealed her as a tragic figure and not some rich, stupid gambler. We hate to remind you of the jolt you must have felt when you realised that the final sequence, in which Esme puts on her make-up and then goes on stage as the curtain rises, was not the great transcendent climax to the story, but in fact a virtually irrelevant coda that seemed self-absorbed and sentimental and to say nothing about the theatre at all, except to ask questions about its taste and judgment. It will, of course, have been profoundly uncomfortable when it dawned on you that this statement about the changes in basic human feelings that had unfolded over the last quarter-century actually achieved no such grand aims and had turned into a posh soap opera without the attractions of incident or action. It must have been a cruel sensation to sit in the Lyttelton stalls and realise that really this material was unworthy of such fine actors as Judi Dench, Ronald Pickup, Samantha Bond, and that, if anything, it was only their richness of stage presence and generosity with an audience that made the evening watchable at all.
We all have bad nights where we realise that our projects haven't quite come off, that the ideas and passions that animated the writing, the design, or the rehearsals became distorted on their way to the opening, or simply did not emerge at all; some cupidity of spirit, some failure of nerve, an excess of ambition over ability, anxiety and tiredness and finding it just flat impossible to step out and see the whole. We learn from these things and move on. These are important learning experiences. As you said about A Map of the World, 'I know it's not the best thing I've ever written, but I have to see it on stage'. It's refreshing for an artist of your stature to admit they have their crap moments, and yes we all know that sometimes making rubbish is a prelude to making something good.
But you do to move on. Learn from your mistakes, don't keep returning to them. Surely that's obvious. So, Sir David, it is with bewilderment that Encore discovers that you're letting Sir Peter Hall revive Amy's View, with Felicity Kendall as Esme and Jenna Russell as her eponymous daughter, Amy. What is going on? Is this the Theatrical Knight's equivalent of going on Trisha? A hugely public confession of your own failings? Or is there perhaps some Catholic spark in you that feels that you didn't suffer enough, squirming in abjection in the Lyttelton stalls that night? It's true that the critics let you off lightly - they're a craven bunch, of course, mostly your age, and probably identify with you more than is healthy - but most of us saw through that. We know how bad the play was and we're sure that you know it too. So really it's not necessary. Please, Sir David. Call Peter Hall. He's a knight too, he'll take your call. You probably have a special red telephone to communicate between you. Tell him it's all been a ghastly mistake. He can ring round the actors. I promise you, they'll be relieved.
And in the morning - promise you'll do this? - phone up your agent. Please, Sir David, call him up. Tell him, loud and clear, that no one, but no one - you don't care if its Thomas Ostermeier or Peter Brook himself (unlikely I would imagine) NO ONE - is to get the rights to do Amy's View ever again.
We have suffered enough, haven't we?