Lyttelton, National Theatre – until 31 January 2019
I’m Not Running is David Hare’s 17th new play to be presented at the National Theatre but for a playwright known for espousing the state of the nation in his work, there’s a frustrating vagueness that leaves him feeling just a little out of touch. Perhaps real-life events overtook him but for a play about contemporary left-wing politics in the UK, there’s little here that rings with profound resonance.
Rather, there’s a story about a woman, a doctor, swept up into the world of politics when her heading of a campaign to save a local hospital from closure springboards her into winning a seat as a single-issue MP. And it’s not long before she’s ostensibly lured by the prospect of becoming the Labour Party’s first female leader, an issue complicated by the presence of an old boyfriend high in the party ranks.
Hare’s writing here is exceedingly wordy, overly so as credible dialogue is replaced with expositionary point-making, political positions used in place of characterisation, too little care employed in crafting a world that works off the page. Neil Armfield’s direction does little to alleviate this either, his production dominated by scenes that go on for an age without ever crackling into life, despite the best efforts of leads Siân Brooke and Alex Hassell.
Her Pauline is hamstrung by too much angst, Hare gives her none of the spark of life and charisma that Hassell gets to play with as her erstwhile paramour Jack, despite her position as the lead character. And as we move in time from their formative uni days, through troubled family times, to a questioning present, the play is caught out by lacking the cultural specificity to speak to today’s Left and also failing to fully explore its more fictional theme of the personal cost of political leadership.