The personal and political become seamlessly intertwined in David Hare's interesting but unduly protracted new play I'm Not Running (National Lyttleton Theatre), directed by Neil Armfield.
The drama focuses on Pauline Gibson, a doctor who has been leading a campaign to save her local hospital. When she crosses paths with her old boyfriend, Jack Gould, a stalwart loyalist in the Labour Party politics, she's faced with an agonising decision. What's involved in sacrificing your private life and your peace of mind for something more than a single issue? Should she run for election? Should she care?
Hare here examines the rise of single-issue politics, the declining trust in party politics and the difficulty of staying true to your beliefs, asking whether you can be more effective inside the political machine or outside?
In its chronological leaps, the piece recalls James Graham's recent hit drama about the state of the Left – Labour of Love – and one of the most amusing lines comes when Pauline observes that she's popular, to which Jack replies "The Labour Party's not interested in votes. " This remark embodies what the play's about – a political movement torn between honouring its internal processes and resolving real-world problems. However there is something schematic about it all, by abstaining from references to the political upheaval we're familiar with either Blair or Brexit, and only scant allusion to the financial crisis, it's as if nothing has changed and time has stood still. Hare though, retains his facility for the well-turned phrase and the relief of a well-groomed joke. That said, the production could do with some judicious pruning and at two and three quarter hours seems overlong.
Ralph Myers's design of a stylishly rotating room is immaculate and adds much to the mood and atmosphere of the play.
The performances are impeccable, especially Siân Brooke as the gamine, committed Pauline, contending with an abused, alcoholic, terminally ill mother back home, her sense of how to do good, balanced with her political aspiration. Alex Hassell, meanwhile, brings a bristling charisma to the role of the careerist Jack, whose father was a famous Left-wing thinker and who endorses the streamlining of the NHS (with attendant hospital closures) which brings him into conflict with Pauline. Good support is provided by Joshua McGuire as Sandy, Pauline's persuasive spin doctor, and Liza Sadovy as her ailing, irascible mother Blaise.
Hare has long been on the frontline of political drama, tackling big contentious issues and he shows no sign of letting up.
I'm Not Running
Runs until Saturday 23 January 2019 at The Lyttleton Theatre (NT London).
Box office: 020 7452 3000
Last modified: April 7, 2021