Thursday, April 09, 2009

THEATRE REVIEW - Gethsemene by David Hare

It was David who spotted it first, 'its got Tamsin Greig in it', 'oh yes we must see this.' Star of 'Green Wing', 'Black Books' & 'The Archers' - are we fans?-Yes we are! Two of your best tickets for the Gallery please. Jesus!! the Gallery in the Brighton Theatre Royal has a steep rake. Any steeper and you'd be propelled over the balcony if you sneezed. Once you got used to it, and made no sudden head moves, it was fine. Looking down on the open stage set, it seemed at first to be ridiculously minimal, like a large white sound proofed booth. During the play, fast action film of London traffic at nigh time was projected onto it, bits opened out to become doors, walls, staircases dropped down, lines of red or pink light turned it into a squash court or a wine bar. This was funky, but good funky.

The play revolves around the Home Secretary of a New Labour government (Tamsin Greig) and her daughter (Jessica Raine). This rebellious daughter has taken drugs, and done something else she wont talk about, that have resulted in her being expelled from her private school. What unfolds is a cover up,within a cover up, the need to avoid being seen to know about it, and to not be transparently complicit in the construction of the charade. There are two main themes; one, that no one can afford to be honest anymore, so everything has either to be cleaned up or made to look blamelessly innocent - and second, that each of these characters whether politician, news media or teacher has doubts about the ethics of what they're doing, they either can't afford to fully acknowledge it, run away from facing it most of the time, or hold onto some residual sense that what they're here for is to do good, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Each is painfully trapped in the sometimes pernicious consequences of their decisions. Each has chosen this cross that they bear - hence the reference to Gethsemene.

There were clearly some obvious factual parallels, the husband of the Home Secretary is an entrepreneur who is wanted on corruption charges in another EU country, for instance. Echoing the Tessa Jowell affair, right down to them arranging a trial separation. Otherwise the story was entirely a political fiction. David Hare is not interested in making sweeping generalisations in order to score party political points, nor in tub thumping polemic. No character is treated two dimensionally as a cipher or a cardboard cut out baddie - this is not a play by Howard Brenton! In the post Thatcher, post New Labour world we live in, the comforting certainties of Socialism v Capitalism now seem ludicrously simplistic. The current situation in British politics is far two subtly nuanced, so finding the mark so you can intelligently hit it, is difficult. Hare is clearly a skilled political observer, as well as a witty dramatist. Everyone is treated with a genial frankness, and a knowing honesty. His most salient points often executed with a deceptive kindness and lightness of touch. Demonstrating very carefully and succinctly how political self serving behaviour and self-sacrifice, all for 'the public good,' make very uneasy bedfellows, whatever your political colouring.

Present day politics is not a pleasure filled garden of delights, its incestuous relationship with the media often turns schizophrenic; from preening attention seeking to mistrustful sulking and bitter resentfulness. By the end of the play one strongly empathises with how caught they all are in an intricate tangle of desire and deceit - both individually and collectively. No one can opt out of being responsible because that collectivity also includes us. Politicians and the media behave in the way that they do because of us, and our unrealistic expectations of them. We set a higher moral standard than we ourselves live by, and then hypocritically deplore and ridicule our political leaders when their flawed humanity is ignominiously revealed. In psychological terms I believe this would be called projection. This lingering perception is just one of the things that this superb and strongly engaging play conjures up.

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