Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Vertical Hour by David Hare, Royal Court Downstairs, 23-Jan-2008 – Directed by Jeremy Herrin

I think that I missed the point of calling this play the Vertical Hour. The phrase refers to the first hour after injury or tragedy when help is most useful. The thing is that the play doesn't seem to deal with anything recent enough to qualify as a Vertical Hour so unless it refers to having missed the vital period, the title appears meaningless. The Vertical Hour is mentioned in the play but I didn’t feel that it connected to the rest of the piece. I remember feeling similar things about Hare’s play Amy's View. Somehow I missed the bits where Amy expounded her ‘view’ and had to wait for another character to explain what it was. It could all be that I’m not paying enough attention.
I got the impression that this play was being built up with the expectation that there was going to be some explosive argument about the Iraq war. Although there was lots of fencing around the subject, which built tension, when it came to the point, it was all rather tame.
Hare made Nadia's position on the war (I found it similar to what Tony Blair tries to sell and no one believes) relatively weak and idealistic and it seemed easy for her ideas be defeated. In fact it almost looked as if she was broken in a speech lasting around thirty seconds. Nadia’s stance that it is a moral duty to intervene when dictators oppress their own people is easy to question. Hare didn’t go down the trite route of simply by listing the places that it was not seen fit to intervene nor did he go deeply into the idea of why Iraq was chosen at that point in history.
Of course had if Hare had made Nadia more of an ultra neo-con figure (Anne Coulter springs to mind) and still had his Olivier character defeat her, it would have looked like left-wing wish fulfillment. I would, however, have made the match more even and incendiary.
If I felt brave or knowledgeable enough I could claim that Hare seems to regard drama as what men do to women, or at least that he thinks women are still defined only by their relationships with men. Probably unfair but it was any impression I got even if I thought of the ‘drama is what men do to women’ line a while back and have been looking for an excuse to use it. What I did see was lots of the relationship between the father and son but didn't get the sense of what had made Nadia tick other than a charismatic man in her past. There was even a line where Nadia’s character was summed up by her boyfriend and again I felt that I was being told something about someone without having noticed when that person showed those character traits. I felt that there was little evidence of Nadia’s personality other than what she told the world and aren’t characters supposed to be unreliable narrators when it comes to themselves?

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