I have great admiration for David Hare, not least for (still) being an angry old man. I’ve seen a lot of his plays and felt ambivalent about some of them – too many of his characters are mouthpieces for his views, political and otherwise, in my humble opinion – but as the man who wrote the mighty Racing Demons, one of the most powerful, thought-provoking and above all compassionate plays of last century, he has to be up there among the best.
His essays, written over a number of years on widely differing subjects and now collected together in a book called We Travelled, are a mixture of rant and astonishing insight. His excoriation of politics and politicians, Conservative ones particularly, Conservative, Oxford-educated ones in particular particular, is wide-ranging, fierce and, frankly, not particularly enlightening, to this reader anyway. He is prone to broad statements along the lines of all bankers are greedy pigs, all (Tory) politicians are corrupt and only interested in themselves and their cronies, etc etc. While I don’t disagree with any of that, his rantings do become repetitive, not to say tediously dogmatic. I disagreed with a lot of what he says, particularly about Terence Rattigan. And the notion that the cheap-and-cheerful entertainment that takes place outside the National Theatre belittles the great work that goes on inside it is frankly baffling, and displays a certain snobbishness, not to say authoritarianism.
However when it comes to character-sketches of people he’s worked with, such as Louis Malle, or the writer Joan Didion, or ex-Archbishop Rowan Williams and others such as the photographer Lee Miller, Hare’s writing is utterly riveting. He shows himself to be an astute and often self-deprecating observer and understander of the weirdness and inconsistencies of human beings and how they work. It’s worth putting up with the rant for this alone.
I’m not sure I’d want to meet David Hare, I think he would terrify me out of my wits. And while I admire it in one way, at the same time I wonder whether it hasn’t been a bit of handicap for a writer to have such strong views on things. The wondrous thing about Racing Demon (one of a trilogy of plays on British institutions) is the way he shows every character to be both faulted yet sympathetic. In other words he is not obviously Making a Big Statement. Because while he rants about how politics is too much about issues and not enough about people, I can’t help also thinking that is also the problem with some of his plays.
© Patsy Trench