Tuesday, 9 December 2008
In December 1988 I went, as a first year undergraduate, to see David Hare's The Secret Rapture at the National Theatre. I remember a brilliantly made play, which tried to personify through the two protagonists, two distinct psychological states. Marion, a rising government Minister represented all the was flawed in the self-interested culture of Thatcher's late government, whereas Isobel in her liberal goodness represented an alternative humane, generous and compassionate way of being. When Isobel is shot and killed late on in the play, the message is clear - that these two states cannot co-exist and that in a society motivated by greed, the 'goodness' that naturally exists in people dies young.
Twenty years on, the same playwright, in the same theatre returns to the theme with Gethsemane. Meredith, a New Labour, Home Secretary picks up the assured baton of composite political pragmatism and is counter pointed by the ridiculously over virtuous Lori, her wayward daughter's teacher, who has given up the day job - too much paperwork - and begun busking on the District line.
My feeling is that this would have been a radical and exciting play ten years ago - but a dialectical argument between the forces of good and evil feels as outdated as monetarism. It also makes me think that Hare either pedestals or condemns his women characters. It's Shavian. It's moral. It needs complication and contradiction to fire the debate.
The play does give a voice, sometimes unbelievably, to the private machinations of politicians, journalists, party fund raisers and even the noble teacher. I learnt nothing, however, that was shocking, unexpected or revealing about the power structures governing our world. At heart I felt was Hare's sentimental research for a soft socialist utopia that never quite happened - a world where roles were clear, popular culture knew its place and we could say what we mean and relax in each others' company.
Perhaps these are the basic tenants of civilisation, perhaps we need the reminder, perhaps also we need to accept that those in power seek privilege as much as they seek to serve and move to a new debate about what we expect from our public servants.