I'm Not Running

You know you’re guaranteed to learn something watching David Hare. Example: from the programme alone here, I discovered it would take a double page spread – given prominence through nice art direction and a clear separation from the rest of the company biogs – to list every play he has been involved with over the his 50 year career. Whilst this is a slightly odd treatment that might well be unprecedented for the NT, it would seem petty to mention, if it hadn’t stuck with me for two reasons. On the one hand, the implication given of elitism and the pomposity in the way it enforces a positive prejudice seems at odds with the man who repeatedly cries J’Accuse to New Labour for ripping out the heart of socialist principles. More simply, it turns out to be the only thing you’re likely to have learned by the end of this sadly underwritten, underacted and undernourished waste of time that is as current, but much less intelligent, than the original series of House of Cards (which would be a far better thing to spend your time watching).

Ignore the sentiment and keep running far from this sorry shambles

Hare’s skill as a political writer – both for TV and the (mostly National) Theatre – is in putting a fictional scenario into a factual environment and making us question what we know by blurring the boundaries between the two. From Kinnock’s demise as Party Leader, to the (mis)use of the “immigration issue” during Brexit, his themes are always those being discussed around offices and pubs right now. Of course, today’s issues don’t just disappear when they are no longer headline fodder for the Daily Mail, but with no fresh insight to be offered in the entirety of I’m Not Running, this might as well just be the topics that didn’t make any of his other work, held together with sticky tape and left to hang in the hope that they will create enough resonance to put aside issues of quality.

The roll call of Issues Lite reads like a list “Things You Always See In An ITV1 Political Drama”. Lack of women in power. Parliament as dated Gentlemen’s Club. Youth involvement in politics. Tradition and heritage used as unlockers to power. Barriers to independent voices in parliament. Single issue campaigning. And of course the NHS – with specific focus on the emotion-inciting debate over keeping local and lovely hospitals that are inefficient to run or replacing them with the cold and corporate blocks that are… well, you’ve heard it all before. There’s no new point to be made here – which is exactly my point.

And that’s the unsubstantial level of both content and tone to drearily fill the time ahead as you watch the woman you recognise from the TV show Doctor Foster (no, unfortunately not the one you’re thinking of, the other one) either shriek, mumble or grunt her way through to making a decision on whether if she’s going to be running. Or not running. For Prime Minister, that is. She says she isn’t. Or at least she isn't intending to. But she might be. She decides by the end and tells us. It’s really no more gripping that that sounds.

Supposedly at its heart is an unbelievable and uncorroborated undying love between the Independent MP, Pauline (no one gets named Pauline any more) and wannabe PM, Jack Gould (Alex Hassell, relishing the chance to show off the tips he picked up from “Playing Blair on Stage – A How To Guide”) that gives reason enough to time hop between ‘97, ‘07 and ‘18 (the ABC of New Labour) and meet an array of characters whose depth and emotion if combined would still struggle to create a single character with three dimensions. Clichés are raised, soundbites are spat and issues are tabled. All are left splutteringly untouched. Personal histories are dealt with through those excruciating speeches you want to escape when hearing the alerts such as “But don’t you remember… It was a warm night… You had the lamb...” Or “You’ve always been confident… I’ve never been confident… It’s probably because many years ago...”

The scene where Pauline meets Sandy (Joshua McGuire who takes best of a bad bunch award for at least seeming to try) that leads to her to politics and him to give up his PR career with The Labour Party to join her (for no logical reason), is so terrible that you hope to discover its irony. Without any visible prompting to it, he monologues to her that he’s in hospital because he’s gay, was visiting his mother who he hates / loves, so got drunk enough to suck a man’s dick in an alley, which led to being beaten up due to the man being straight… ‘Oh and I must tell you’ he adds (though I am paraphrasing), “I feel so guilty now I’m here. And I really shouldn’t tell you this. But I just have to. You see. I’m… Closing!… This Hospital… DOWN!!!!!

Most odd of all is that nobody involved in this entire production seems to have noticed its, shall we politely say, shortcomings. Coming from Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre, Director Neil Armfield and Designer Ralph Myers seem to have taken no more than the success of Neighbours as an indicator of great British dramaturgy. Armfield doesn’t trouble us with silly things like tone, pace, light or shade, letting the actors wander aimlessly, lost on a stage that is far too big for them to manage. And Myers erases any last hope of offering a ballast, instead he has thrown together a three-walled room, clearly without reference to scale of the Lyttleton stage, so it just seems to be plonked in the middle, making the smallness even smaller and the aimless become lost. I can only assume National stalwart, Jon Clark, purposefully misplaced his lighting design to blind the left side of the stalls during the never-ending penultimate decision-revealing scene out of pity for us. When this run is over, there’s not a single person involved that I could see, who wouldn’t be best advised to ignore the title’s sentiment and start running. Running as fast and as far as possible from this sorry shambles that’s best for all if soon-forgotten.

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The Blurb

Do I run? This is the question which is facing Pauline Gibson. She has spent her life as a doctor, the inspiring leader of a local health campaign. When she crosses paths with her old boyfriend, Jack Gould, a stalwart loyalist in Labour Party politics, she’s faced with an agonising decision.

What’s involved in sacrificing your private life and your peace of mind for something more than a single issue? Does she dare?

Photo by Mark Douet

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