David Hare’s sharp new political drama – I’m Not Running:
David Hare’s sharp new political drama, I’m Not Running, is the 17th play he has written for the National Theatre. This complex, contemporary plot addresses the state of the Labour Party in 2018, placing a strong female protagonist in the lead – and highlighting the lack of female leaders in the running within the current party.
Neil Armfield’s fluid and assured production takes place on a stark black stage designed by Ralph Myers. A revolving box at its centre provides a series of rooms in which dramatic projections of talking heads create a chorus for the emotional and political wrangling.
We follow Pauline back to her university days as a medical student in Newcastle in 1997, where she is romantically intertwined with suave law student Jack Gould (very believably portrayed by Alex Hassell). The son of a Labour MP and acclaimed socialist theorist, Jack is desperately trying to cut his own path, rather than live in his father’s shadow. Nevertheless, he goes on to follow firmly in the paternal footsteps. Clear Miliband references here…
Relations between Pauline and Jack are fraught; punctuated by explosions of lust, their turbulent, passionate affair ends with a split. Pauline’s back-story of neglect and having to care for an alcoholic mother gives her a depth, which is peppered with her strengths and weaknesses. Liza Sadovy gives a powerful performance as the broken and manipulative mother, who after years of abuse is set on a path of self-destruction.
As the narrative shifts back and forth between past and present, we see Pauline rise to power with the help of her personal assistant Sandy – quite brilliantly and charmingly depicted by Joshua McGuire. Their extraordinarily poignant relationship, and his remarkable interpretation of a loyal attendant to the complex Pauline as she navigates a world of party politics and political compromises, was one of the highlights of this production.
The first act lacks pace and energy, at times feeling a little stilted and over-egged. Act Two, however, substantially picks up the momentum. Jack is a rising star, running for Labour party leadership. He and Pauline are reunited through politics, the magnetism and powerful dynamics between them creates the sort of tension the production needs to raise its game.
As Pauline’s weaknesses are laid bare and Jack’s deep-rooted insecurities become all too apparent, the venom flies in a battle for centre-stage. Pauline’s inherent strength shines through, whilst Jack succumbs to hubris.
I was much taken with this political state-of-the-nation play. Albeit avoidant of the deeper and more current issues we are presently facing, I appreciated Hare’s sensitive, rich portrayal of female psychology prevailing under duress.
At the Lyttelton, National Theatre until 31 January 2019.
Upper Ground, Lambeth,
London SE1 9PX
See our review of the Southbank Orchestra in Residence – The Philharmonia