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The Theatreguide.London Review


Gethsemane
Cottesloe Theatre 2008-2009

David Hare delivers the goods. The wrapping may sometimes be more impressive than what's in the box, but it's never a cheat. You come to him for plays of political insight and not-too-sharp a bite, and that's what you get.

Hare is a remarkably astute political observer and a surprisingly objective one. Though it's clear where his heart is, he has a sympathy for those he dislikes and a distance from those he admires that make the plays work as involving drama rather than just polemics.

In this case his subject is practical day-to-day politics, more likely to be bogged down in trivia than dealing with issues, addressing the tasks of raising money, balancing job and life, coping with constant crises and staying in power.

The play is very much aware that its characters should be above such things, but it doesn't condemn them for dealing with them. The title, as the play reminds us, refers to the night Jesus' faith in his mission wavered, but he carried on regardless.

And if there is a moral to Hare's play, it is that there is something we must grudgingly acknowledge as heroic in carrying on.

The play centres on two characters, a rather oily party fundraiser and occasional problem-solver, and a female Home Secretary whose husband is a dodgy businessman and whose teenager daughter's rebellions threaten to explode into scandal, especially when the money guy rather clumsily tries to hush them up.

The two strands are connected, not only by the teenager, but by an assistant to the fundraiser whose wife is the teenager's teacher and confidante.

What the play sees is that all these people (We also meet the Blairish PM and aides to both the Home Secretary and the money man) really ought to be doing The Country's Work, and would actually rather be doing that.

But all these distractions come with the job and do have to be dealt with in order for any bits of the real work to get done.

Some of the play's highest admiration is reserved for the most cold-blooded character onstage, the Home Secretary's aide, who just gets on with the dirty work without regard for morality.

And that not only makes for strong drama - when scandal breaks, the Home Sec must fight for her political future - but for moments of real political insight - an encounter between her and the PM conducted entirely in euphemistic code - of wit - the aide counsels her boss not to ask questions because the only safe place for a politician to live is in ignorance - and of honest emotional involvement, particularly in the mother-daughter scenes.

Howard Davies directs with a disarming veneer of aloof distance that makes our emotional involvement, when it comes, all the more powerful.

The entire cast is first-rate, with Tamsin Greig's Home Secretary, Gugu Mbatha-Raw's aide, Nicola Walker's teacher and, in his one scene, Anthony Calf's PM standing out.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Gethsemane - National Theatre 2008

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