David hare

A play for bureaucrats: David Hare’s Straight Line Crazy reviewed

It’s good of Nicholas Hytner to let Londoners see David Hare’s new play before it travels to Broadway where it belongs. Few Brits will know the subject, Robert Moses, an urban planner of the 1920s who built the roads and bridges that gave New Yorkers access to seaside resorts in Long Island. This is a play for bureaucrats. Nit-picking and box-ticking are the main points of interest. Squiggles on forms. Correct signatures at the bottom of proof-read documents. Hare is copying George Bernard Shaw and his script is a celebration of rhetoric above all other qualities. Dialogue-junkies will enjoy the screeds of quickfire chatter that keep the play motoring along.

The psychopath who wrecked New York

Robert Moses was the man, they say, who built New York. He was never elected to anything, yet he had absolute control of all public works in the city for more than 40 years, until 1968. His record was mind-bending. He personally conceived and directed the building of 627 miles of New York parkways and expressways, seven of New York’s bridges, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel and the entire Long Island highway system; he built the Lincoln Centre arts complex, the United Nations, Jones Beach Park, JFK airport, Central Park zoo and the Shea Stadium; he built 658 playgrounds, 11 swimming pools, 673 baseball pitches and cleared thousands of acres of slums;

Has Starmer just saved his leadership?

The Labour leader is in trouble. His party has been cast adrift from its moorings in the working-class and is languishing in opposition. He has tried to drag Labour towards electability, but so far, his only reward has been members’ hostility and plots for his removal. If his Conservative counterpart, safe in No. 10, is hardly impressive, the voters seem to like him much more: 48 per cent see the Labour leader as simply ‘boring’ and many aren’t even sure what he stands for. This is not a pen portrait of Keir Starmer. It is, instead, a description of George Jones, David Hare’s fictional Labour leader, and the protagonist of

Enough plotlines to power several seasons of The West Wing: BBC1’s Roadkill reviewed

Like many a political thriller before it, BBC1’s Roadkill began with a politician emerging into the daylight to face a bank of clicking cameras and bellowing journalists. In this case, the politician was Peter Laurence (Hugh Laurie), the Tory minister for transport, who’d just won a libel case against a newspaper that had accused him of using his cabinet position for personal profit. Exactly what he’s supposed to have done, we don’t yet know — although it does seem pretty clear that whatever it was, he did it. Certainly his own lawyer thinks so, as does the journalist who wrote the story but had to retract it in court when

Rod Liddle

Spare us David Hare

Having not watched television for nine months and already growing bored of the 1,000-piece jigsaw of General Alfredo Stroessner (part of the ‘Vigorous Leaders’ range from Waddingtons), my wife suggested — for a novelty — that maybe we should take in the new political thriller starring Hugh Laurie, called Roadkill. We have fond memories of Laurie from previous dramas and are both mildly interested in politics, so it seemed an agreeable idea. ‘What side is it on?’ I asked, with a note of warning. ‘BBC One,’ replied the missus, and we looked at each other glumly and I said: ‘Oh Christ. It’ll be a woke BAME-athon. Isn’t there an old

Defund theatres – and give the money to gardeners and bingo halls

For nearly six months our subsidised playhouses, notably the National Theatre, have been dark. What have we missed? Not much. Some would say nothing at all. And this has come as a surprise to those of us who were led to believe that the subsidised theatre is critical to ‘the national conversation’. It turns out that the nation can happily debate political and social issues without the help of playwrights or actors. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine our state-funded theatres and the reasons we support them. The National Theatre was set up in 1963, soon after the establishment of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961, and both received funding from

Hare-brained | 18 July 2019

The National Theatre’s boss, Rufus Norris, has confessed that he ‘took his eye off the ball’ when it came to female writers and he plans to strike an equal balance between the sexes in future. Good news for male scribblers who’ll know that they’ve been selected on merit but rather demoralising for females who’ll suspect that they’re just making up the numbers. Sir David Hare, who has written or adapted 25 shows for the National, could easily solve the NT’s sexual identity crisis by announcing that he’s a woman. His latest is a modern version of Ibsen’s barmy but enjoyable fable Peer Gynt, which mixes folklore, fantasy, social comment and

Antisemitism for dummies

Some people might argue that Deborah Lipstadt has given us the book we desperately need from the author best equipped to write it. After all, in just the past few weeks the dumpster fire over the Labour party’s hand-ling of anti-Semitism burst into acrid flame again over general secretary Jenny Formby’s release of Labour’s record in responding to the problem — 673 complaints, 96 members suspended, 12 expelled. Labour’s failure to act decisively against anti-Semitism was also cited by most of the nine MPs who left the party. Meanwhile, in Lipstadt’s own country, Ilhan Omar, one of two Muslim-American women recently elected to congress, was condemned by House Speaker Nancy

Mike Leigh

So there I was in Soho Square on a cold and rainy morning, nibbling my complimentary almond croissant and eagerly looking forward to the advance preview of Mike Leigh’s new historical epic Peterloo. This People’s Uprising of 1819, and its brutal suppression by a wealthy, uncaring and out-of-touch metropolitan elite, took place precisely 200 years before we finally leave the EU next year. And thrilling if traumatic times they were too. ‘An old, mad, blind, despised and dying King… A people starved and stabbed in th’ untilled field…’ wrote Shelley in some of his most ferocious lines. So Leigh surely saw Peterloo as a powerful metaphor for our own Brexit

This is a man’s world

Sir David Hare’s weird new play sets out to chronicle the history of the Labour movement from 1996 to the present day. But it makes no mention of Corbyn, Momentum, the anti-Semitism row or rumours of a breakaway party. The drama is located in the dead-safe Miliband era and it opens with talk of a leadership election. The two best candidates, Pauline and Jack, are old lovers from university. Pauline is a doctor who entered politics when budget cuts threatened the hospital where her mother was being treated for cancer. Jack is a colourless Blairite greaser, a sort of Andy Burnham without the mascara, who is still besotted with Pauline


Shortly after my rave review of McMafia eight weeks ago, I got a long message from an old friend chastising me for being so horribly wrong. Could I not see that the series was boring, convoluted and badly acted? Was I aware of how many better series there had been on Amazon and Netflix recently because, if I wasn’t, she could give me a few recommendations… Several other people wrote to me in a similar vein and I felt terrible. Life is short and TV production is so voluminous these days that now more than ever we need critics to sift the bullion from the dross. Sure, reviews are a

Panic of the playwrights

Earlier this week the Guardian launched ‘Brexit Shorts’, a series of monologues written by Britain’s ‘leading playwrights’ about the aftermath of the EU referendum. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘What fresh hell is this?’ But bear with me. Watching the first batch of these short films, which are on the Guardian website, isn’t complete purgatory. Not because they’re much good, obviously — although one is, and I’ll come to that in a moment. But because the reason these writers are so anxious about Brexit is due to their uncritical acceptance of Project Fear. Perhaps they’ll become a little less hysterical once they’ve been introduced to some solid facts. Take

Sweet and sour | 27 October 2016

Great subject, terminal illness. Popular dramas like Love Story, Terms of Endearment and My Night With Reg handle the issue with tact and artistry by presenting us with a single victim and a narrative focus that reveals as much about the survivors as about the patient. Crucially, the disease is omitted from the title for fear of discouraging the punters from mentioning the work in conversation. A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer violates all these strictures. Half a dozen characters seated in a hospital ward shout at us about their failing health. These disjointed gobbets of testimony are interspersed with repetitive zombie dances and noisy songs with lyrics

Out – and not proud

‘Many people are mourning,’ said Sam West on a BBC panel show discussing the response of the arts world to Brexit. According to West’s figures, ‘96 per cent of those polled were for Remain. Collaboration and connection are our bread and butter.’ The atmosphere of bitterness and anger was palpable at the Edinburgh Festival. I spent four days immersed in comedy shows and I heard only one pro-Brexit gag. The excellent Geoff Norcott said he was puzzled to meet Remainers who told him the result had been swung by ‘thick’ Leave voters. ‘Thick?’ he said. ‘The Remain campaign waited until after 23 June to stage their street protest.’ Lloyd Evans

Wish upon a star

Out come the stars in Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet. He musters a well-drilled, celebrity-ridden crew but they can’t quite get the rocket off the launchpad. The stylish setting evokes Italy in the early 1950s. The girls wear New Look frocks and the boys sport tight slacks and shirtsleeves. Christopher Oram’s muted set has bland marble walls and tasteless squared-off pillars like a modern dictator’s palace on the Euphrates. A rare failure. Romeo is played by Game of Thrones inmate Richard Madden, who seems a handsome enough specimen, but Branagh might have asked him to act with his soul rather than his forearms. And he looks too mature. To kill

Charles Moore vs David Hare: a one-act play

  Charles Moore and David Hare sit in the editor’s office at The Spectator, Hare on a brown leather chesterfield, Moore opposite him on the striped sofa once favoured by the former editor Boris Johnson for naps. Hare and Moore disagree on everything from God to Thatcher; capitalism to the Iraq war. But as Moore has recently noted in his column, both men grew up in the same place, near Bexhill on the East Sussex coast. They’re here for tea and to see if there’s anything on which they can agree.… Act I, Scene I CHARLES MOORE: In your book [The Blue Touch Paper] you describe the Bexhill I knew,

Spectator books of the year: Roger Lewis recommends his own unwritten books

I wish I could pull off the Anthony Burgess stunt and recommend books of my own — Erotic Vagrancy, about Burton and Taylor, and Growing Up With Comedians, about, well, comedians. Both are doing well on Amazon and have garnered wonderful reviews. They are clearly my most successful and esteemed achievements. Unfortunately, neither title actually exists as such and no words have been written. The publishers jumped the gun with their announcements — though in our ‘virtual’ world perhaps this no longer matters. A book I do have physically in my hands, which I enjoyed immensely, is David Hare’s The Blue Touch Paper (Faber, £20), which is as phosphorescent as

How the Germans made Glyndebourne

This is hardly the time of year for picnics on the lawn, but I have nevertheless had a week dominated by Glyndebourne. First I went to London to see David Hare’s play The Moderate Soprano, about the creation of the Glyndebourne opera festival by John Christie in 1934; and then to a Glyndebourne production in Milton Keynes of Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail. John Christie was an extraordinary man. A rich country landowner, who served bravely in the first world war, he returned home to his house in Sussex to pursue his interest in music. He purchased a colossal organ, perhaps the biggest in England outside a cathedral.

The man who wouldn’t be king

Not that long ago the BBC trumpeted a new Stakhanovite project to big up the arts in its many and various hues. And praise be, this it is jolly well doing with all sorts of dad rock docs, homages to painters and poets, while Sralan Yentob (as he surely ought at the very least to be, and soon) continues to knock frock-coated on doors like a highly remunerated person from Porlock. Before multichannels and multi-platforms, great arts coverage was (if memory serves) done without much song and dance. Lest we forget, Yentob was once a progenitor of Arena. Long the haven of burgeoning filmmakers such as Mary Harron, James Marsh

The Spectator’s notes | 1 October 2015

Contrary to the sneers of what he calls the commentariat, Jeremy Corbyn has already acquired brilliant spin doctors. In advance, the media was full of how his party conference speech would be all about his patriotism. Actually, this was barely mentioned. This technique of spinning the speech beforehand is pure Mandelson/Campbell. The emphasis on ‘free debate’ is also spin. In fact, the subtext of the speech was what communists call ‘the leading role of the party’ — control by activists. It was cunningly done, apparently sweet, actually tough. Mr Corbyn also followed the proud tradition of the Bush family. He accidentally read out the instruction, ‘Strong message here.’ President Bush