The Absence of War
Because you keep hearing about the pertinence of this play with a General Election looming, it may come as something of a surprise that it was written 22 years ago – even more so, inspired by Neil Kinnock’s failure to lead the Labour Party to victory.
For my part it was one of those rare occasions where the programme threw a lot more light on the production. That said, the statement about politicians are not shown as ‘cynical, devious or lying…controlled by brilliant manipulators’ seems to contradict the play itself: the impression that the old guard in the office of Leader George Jones are as opposed to publicity adviser Lindsay Fontaine’s spinning new broom as they are to the Tory party. Yes, echoes of both ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘The Thick of It'; is it truly coincidence that there is a character called Malcolm?
Again, for me, the whole thing was not quite the sum of its parts, which does not mean to say that some scenes weren’t outstanding, for example, George being grilled in a TV interview by Linus Frank. The latter is played by Don Gallagher, who is as excellent in the role of Prime Minister, Charles Kendrick, with his pompous speeches and careful acknowledgement of loyal wife, Carol, which come across as if he is reminding himself just who she is. Indeed, one of the main themes is the yawning gap between what actually is, and what it appears to be; the private face and the public image.
George, for one, needs to be all things to all people to win an election; he cannot be allowed to be himself, and one devasting scene, one disastrous speech, demonstrates precisely why. Reece Dinsdal portrays a towering personality, and handles it all with aplomb, particularly in what may be considered a Hare speciality, along with the witty, cutting lines: a two hander, where he faces said Malcolm (Gyuri Sarossy) whom he blames for the catastrophic interview.
Imaginatively yet minimally staged, with plenty of video and TV – the eys of the world are always upon you, scenes shift from interior to exterior, from domestic to Parliament, but although fast moving, it is also quite chaotic and noisy; rather as we imagine political goings on to be. And the entire cast are remarkable, with special mention to Cyril Nri as the uptight Political Adviser, Oliver Dix, Helen Ryan in several roles as all round grump, and Party stalwart Bryden Thomas (Barry McCarthy).
Even if one mostly for fans of David Hare and political diehards, this play provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes.