Writer: David Hare
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
The 2015 election is looming and Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre is celebrating the occasion with a razor sharp political drama which gives us a little insight into what may be gong in behind closed doors. Premiered in 1993 by the National Theatre, Absence of War mirrors in all but names the internal affairs of The Labour Party in the run up to the 1992 General Election – a mockumentary that hits a little close to home with the real politics behind party politics.
The piece follows Gordon on the campaign trail as the leader of the Labour Party with potential of huge gains – as well as huge losses. Following his whole political entourage, the plot mirrors the rise and fall of Neil Kinnock. Throughout the empathy of the audience lies with our protagonist, peaking in the later stages of Act II when the inevitable electoral defeat is realised. Although following an exciting and often fast paced political plot, there are moments – more notably in Act II – when scenes feel dragged out to an extent, which does detract from the tension and pace that is built upon throughout. Humour pierced through the piece throughout and is rarely overtly comical. Rather, characters turn of phrase is clearly yet cleverly constructed to mirror the polished act we see most of our politicians deliver in the present day. Certainly a piece aimed at a more intellectually switched on audience, the piece does not disappoint in its razor sharp wit – at times hitting very close to the bone in the undressing of Labour (and other parties’) policy and structure. It remains ever relevant in a political climate such as we have today, which can be interpreted as alarming or reassuring depending on ones political persuasion. The piece effectively leaves it’s audience thought provoked rather than displaying a clear partisan, which would potentially have cheapened its appeal.
The set is minimal but far from ineffective; embracing technology without ever ruining the illusion of 90’s Britain, the piece cleverly uses block party colours to set clear political distinctions between scenes, ensuring the ensemble (playing multiple rôles) are not lost in the madness. Lighting is used to great effect, from silhouettes of the cast to the incessant flash of the press cameras, the drama is truly enhanced by the technical elements of production.
Reece Dinsdale is charming and believable in the rôle of George Jones and evokes strong emotional support from his audience. Particularly strong in his one to one confrontation with Malcom Pryce, played by Gyuri Sarossy, Dinsdale perfectly captures the pressures on the shoulders of a party leader. Cyril Nri equally delights in the rôle of Oliver Dix, giving a performance that really grasps the turmoil of the character as well as delivering lines with a rich vocal clarity that is a pleasure to listen to. On the contrary, local boy James Harkness is altogether unconvincing in his portrayal of Andrew Buchan. Looking rather out of his depth, there is no conviction – rather a sense of hesitation – in his delivery of the prose leaving any emotion or sincerity from his performance. The ensemble play multiple rôles well and it’s a fairly strong cast overall.
This play proves in itself it was worth reviving for this heightened political climate. Well worth seeing for those with an interest in the field, it may need some polishing in terms of production and pace at times, but it leaves a thought provoking finish and is far from dated. Certainly worth a trip to the ballot box – eh, theatre – to see.
Runs until 4 April