Gethsemane – February 2009


By David Hare

Directed by Howard Davies

Venue: Cottesloe Theatre

Date: Tuesday 24th February 2009

This was a much better piece than David Hare’s usual offerings, mainly because he seems to have decided to let the audience have some fun and kept the political pontificating to a couple of speeches in the penultimate scene. Hooray! He is a good writer, but this is probably the first time I’ve enjoyed of one of his plays so much.

The play is a look at the various aspects of political life in contemporary Britain, seen through the eyes of a number of different people. To start and end with, there’s the idealistic musician, still believing that people can make honest choices, and that politicians don’t have to sup with the devil as part of the job. Lori gave up a job as a music teacher to busk on the Tube, because she reached a Gethsemane moment, a period of being tested, and in this case she decided that teaching wasn’t for her.

One of her former students, Suzette (and what parent would name their child after a crepe?), has been caught taking drugs, and is possibly going to be expelled from her posh private school. However, her mother is the Home Secretary, Meredith Guest, and the party fixer, Otto Fallon, who just happens to be on the board of governors (because Meredith’s minder Monique could see that Suzette was a disaster not just waiting to happen but about to arrive any minute), arranges for a generous donation to the school for a new gym. The school doesn’t want any adverse publicity, so case solved. Except that a journalist, Geoff Benzine (where does he get these names?) gets to hear about this from Suzette herself, while he was shagging her. He’s just one of five men she has on the trot, in an attempt to cure her unhappiness (it doesn’t work). So, the PM, Alec Beasley, has to interrupt his drum practice to have a little chat with Meredith, to see if she’s prepared to fall on her sword for the good of the party. She says no, and so the party machine spins on, with Suzette out of the way in Italy, chaperoned by Lori, and Meredith turning up at a party thrown by Otto to celebrate his appointment to the board of the Royal Opera House.

This is the scene with the speechifying, as Mike, Lori’s husband, who did work for Meredith but took a job with Otto to do fundraising for the party, finally quits due to concerns about the morality of what’s going on. He’s the amiable duffer type – good at his job, but unambitious, and easily led by the canny operators (or sharks) that want his talents on their side. He expresses that vague sense of unease that something’s wrong, that we’ve got our priorities mixed up, that sort of thing, without being able to deliver a killer blow. Meredith has a much stronger response to that. She’s discovered that, in the final analysis, you might as well do exactly what you want to, as ‘they’ aren’t going to like you whatever you do. It’s true enough, though in this case, it leads to politicians who get the country into a total mess, and appear not to care. They don’t even resign; as long as they can spin that they’re doing the best they can, we have to keep on putting up with them.

The play has a number of scenes, interspersed with monologues from most of the characters. Lori starts it off by talking about people who believe in a book, and wondering where those who don’t believe without question fit in nowadays.  Monique tells us about warning politicians where the elephant traps are, only to watch them fall right in. Meredith tells us that we’re all at risk, but for security reasons she can’t tell us what the threat is, so we just have to trust her, and Mike tells us about meeting Lori for the first time. We also get a couple of monologues from Frank, Otto’s right-hand man. He’s a character who’s relatively uninvolved; his deadpan and laconic delivery are a joy to watch, and he gets some wonderfully funny lines, too. He starts off by discussing food choices (chicken and salmon), and then gives us an insight into the homosexual nature of Parliament. The best lines, though, were Monique’s, when she made an observation about the people becoming more sceptical and yet electing people who are more devout. It got a huge laugh, and she had to wait a few seconds before continuing.

The play ends with Suzette and Lori in Italy, and as they talk, Lori brings up the idea of Gethsemane again. Suzette finds it funny that Lori’s got the wrong end of the stick; the point of the story is that, despite all the doubts and reluctance, Jesus still went ahead. It’s a story of keeping on regardless, not about changing tack because you’re not certain anymore. When Suzette leaves, Lori starts to play the piano on the table top, and as the music fades in, the lights fade out.

There was a lot to admire in this play. The performances were very good, the writing was excellent – very clear and not too pompous – and there were a lot of laughs. I liked the first encounter between Otto and Mike; the language was almost Pinterish, and the characterisations were nicely detailed. However, I found the play a bit out of date already as we’re past the Blair years, and the financial situation has changed dramatically since the time this play was set. There wasn’t a lot that was new to me either, so while it was very enjoyable, it wasn’t particularly meaty. Still, good fun though, and I hope he continues in this vein.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at