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David Hare

An extract from the diary of David Hare

[with special reference to Hare's trilogy of plays about British institutions - Racing Demon, Murmuring Judges and The Absence of War]

The State of Britain, Part One: Three days ago, I went to a party. I don't often go to parties, because I'm not that kind of person, I'm a playwright, with more serious concerns. But I went to this one. By bus, of course. I'm not the sort of person who takes taxis. So I hailed a double-decker in the King's Road and told the driver to take me to Islington. He was then to wait for me outside the party for an hour or two and take me back. The instructions were quite clear. But of course this is Thatcher's Britain, so when I left the party - a party I didn't particularly enjoy, by the way, it was hardly serious at all and full of 'amusing' people - the bus was nowhere to be seen (typical) and I was forced to hail, against all my instincts, a black cab. Out of sympathy with the driver I sat with him in the front, observing, observing, observing, my mind racing back to one of those rare defining moments, disproportionately significant but peculiarly illuminating, that had occurred back at the party.

I had been standing in the corner of the room with the dirty paper cup I had specially brought with me, when a man had come over - a tall, flashy type, with an easy smile, wearing a fashionable 'tie'. He said: 'You look a bit lonely, may I introduce myself?' He then introduced himself. I didn't reply, preferring to observe, as most serious playwrights do. He then said - again that fake smile - 'And who are you?' I was outraged, utterly outraged. And flabbergasted. Shocked too. Shocked, outraged and flabbergasted. Not for me, of course, but for my profession, and the whole of British Theatre, from the lowest understudy right up to the most brilliant and dangerous playwright (whether this is me or not is beside the point). Why was this man - this man in his fashionable tie, with his promiscuous smile and his over-attentive handshake - pretending not to know who the hell I was? This was a sign of our inexorable national decline, as significant and painful in its way as the Miners Strike or the Falklands Conflict.

The State of Britain, Part Two: As the hurt and the horror surged within me, I felt driven to speak. 'I'm David Hare,' I said.

'David Hare!' he repeated, 'Goodness! I really enjoy all your plays - you're one of the greatest living playwrights, in my opinion!'

Note that patronising, biassed and artfully demeaning tone in a statement riddled with the foul odour of ruling class condescension: 'ONE OF the greatest LIVING playwrights, IN MY OPINION'. Only in Britain - tired, sick, dislocated, dying Britain - in the 1990S could it be considered 'fashionable' to denigrate a serious playwright in this way. When I got home, I immediately wrote a cool letter to the host of the party, questioning his ethics in inviting me to a function at which there were people who openly hated me, roundly condemning his loathsome hypocrisy in not warning me of his treachery. He eventually replied with some sort of an apology. Which all goes to show that here in Thatcher's Britain, the national pastime - the national characteristic - is to apologise, apologise, apologise. When will we as a nation have the courage to start to stand up for ourselves?

The State of Britain, Part Three: I've tried to bring out something of this and other symptoms of our national decline in my new play Cardboard Characters - the first part of my powerful new Forty Winks trilogy consisting of Cardboard Characters, Dialogue Dreary and An Absence of Interest - which is currently being staged at The National Theatre. An Absence of Interest seeks to analyse the system whereby the ruling classes use the money gained from the working classes to finance other members of the ruling classes to write a trilogy about how they take money from the working classes to finance their systems, a trilogy which will be visited, I hope, not only by other members of the ruling classes but by a few representatives of the working class as well. It is a tremendously strong piece, devastating in its indictment of the inherent hypocrisy of those involved in its creation.

The State of Britain, Part Four: In this truly moving piece of dialogue, the main character is a brilliant yet sensitive playwright, who some people say is based on me but is obviously NOT me at all - I'm not Welsh. In this truly moving piece of dialogue the playwright character, who is called Daffyd Hare, confronts what he sees as the malaise in post-colonial Britain:

JACK: Cigarette?
DAFFYD: No thanks.
JACK: You don't want a cigarette?
DAFFYD: Not at the moment. No thanks.
JACK: Don't smoke?
DAFFYD: Only when I stop to think about the malaise in post-colonial Britain which stems, directly or indirectly. from our national sense of dislocation, springing, whether consciously or not, from our deeply rooted inability to shed the sense of past glories, a failure which mayor may not be rooted in our concurrent inability to face up to the challenges of the future, to develop and expand those institutions that are crumbling around us, unloved and unwanted, fostering an abandoned generation without pride or sense of purpose. (He frowns. Something is on his mind)
JACK: Yeah, I keep meaning to give up, too. I did once, for a couple of months, but then I went back. Mug's game, really.
DAFFYD: You're right there, Jack.
JACK: It's not as though I even like the taste, much. How about you?
DAFFYD: I'd relish the taste more if it didn't make me remember the days when hope beat in our hearts, when it seemed as if this country was marching forward into a new age, an age of optimism, an age in which society would look after those who were unable, for whatever reason, to -
JACK (looking at watch): Lordy be, Daffyd - is that the time? I must be going. Cheerio, then. Lovely talking to you.
DAFFYD (frowns): I've always wanted to know the answer. The answer to one question. A question that has haunted me. And the question is. After two and a half hours, is this all it's been about. Is it? Well, is it?
(The lights fade)
Well - is it?
(The sound of 'Land of Hope and Glory' grows louder. Curtain.)

Craig Brown




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