The John Tusa Interviews
Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with David Hare
For more than thirty years David Hare has been a figure on the British and international stage. With some forty plays and screenplays to his name, no-one would bother to dispute that. The question of what sort of figure is harder to define, but far more interesting, that David Hare has had a protean quality to him throughout his career. There was the committed, radical firebrand of portable theatre, the blatantly aggressive theatre in the 1960s, there was the overtly political trilogy of plays - 'Knuckle', 'Slag' and 'Fanshen' in the 1970s - the State of the Nation trilogy examining British national institutions in the 1980s. I should perhaps warn that in grouping his work like this I'm undoubtedly imposing a degree of tidiness on it that is more rigid than it ought to be, but I'll continue. In the 1990s Hare wrote what you might call his personal relationship plays - 'Amy's View', 'Skylight', 'Secret Rapture'. And as if sensing that that vein of work was exhausted, the inexhaustible David Hare has roared into the new century with political writing which combines documentary realism with imaginative reconstruction of the arguments behind the publicly known facts. In 'Via Dolorosa', which he performs himself, he tells the story of his visit to Israel and Palestine . In 'The Permanent Way' he interviewed the survivors of the Potters Bar railway crash to create a Greek-style drama about those responsible. Most recently, in 'Stuff Happens', Hare took on the road to war in Iraq , mixing documentary re-telling with dramatic scenes between Blair and Bush and other protagonists. Behind it all lies a fierce belief that theatre matters, that drama illuminates society and politics around us, and that a writer can't run away from the world he lives in. He's been described a romantic with a surgical scalpel, and much else besides.
Now when you speak up for theatre, are you really apprehensive that it is under threat?
Not really, no, I think people will always want to go to the theatre. There was a huge ideological movement against theatre, which I think was led by the first generation to prefer reproduced entertainment to live entertainment. The television arrived in my living room when I was eight, or nine, and we didn't really look at it every evening. You know it was there, but we didn't watch it every night. And it wasn't thought of the primary means of entertainment. But for that generation which is probably now in their forties, they grew up under Thatcher, they stopped going to the theatre, and we have a whole missing group who didn't go to the theatre. But I think that's beginning to right itself again, and in the balcony of 'Stuff Happens' at the Olivier at the moment you'll find six hundred young people who've paid ten pounds who are under twenty-five.
And how serious should the theatre be?
The mistake is to think that I'm ever arguing for... You know, throughout the 1970s then Bernard Levin, who was always the chief enemy of serious theatre, on the Sunday Times, was always saying you know these ghastly young men and women have arrived and changed the theatre, and they've put these political plays on. And you'd open the newspaper and you'd see the same old comedies and musicals and thrillers and old tat and rubbish that there's always been. Nine tenths of the theatre is always that stuff, and that doesn't change. If you look down the listings of what's on in the theatre now you'll find 'Puppetry of the Penis' and just the good old thrillers and all that stuff.
It'll be amazing not to speak up for serious theatre in that context.
Yeah, and the idea that we, you know those of us who wanted the theatre to address social or political questions, ever had any influence. We never had any influence at all. We were simply at the very fringe of it, but it was a fringe that made it possible for thinking people to go to the theatre and look at their own society, and that could be one of the many things that theatre did. We never wanted it to be anything else but that.
Yes, but when you say that theatre is or ought to be about how people ought to live and about the gap between what is said and what is seen to be done, I mean it is quite rightly pitching the demands of serious theatre at a very high and serious level, which does affect at least how we think about ourselves.
It does for me. The plays that, you know if I want to go out in the evening I'm not going to go to 'Puppetry of the Penis', I'm going to go to a play that does exactly what I'm talking about. And what plays do that is sort of miraculously interesting to me is show up the difference between the way we act and the way we speak, and that's the first thing an enacted drama does. A character says one thing and then behaves in a different way. And so inevitably moral judgements begin to be made by the audience about what kind of people they're watching. And then, by watching those people, they come to certain conclusions about themselves, and they discover certain things about themselves, about what they do and don't like in human beings.
If I said that you had some of the characteristics of a playwright, of a Jonsonian, i.e. a Ben Jonsonian moralist, would that strike a chord?
I personally can't stand his plays I have to say!
(LAUGHS) It might still be true though.
I don't think of myself that way. To be honest it seems to me so clear. There are a couple of playwrights, and I suppose Oscar Wilde is one, I suppose you can argue maybe Samuel Beckett is another, who try to avoid the inevitable moral consequences of the theatre. By and large, when you put a play on, about two thirds of the way through the audience either becomes restless, or begins to ask the question, what is this person trying to say? And they have to have a sense of what the purpose of the evening has been. You may like Oscar Wilde deliberately refuse to offer that, and that's part of the fun of the evening with Oscar Wilde, is that in a rather deliberately flip way he will say I refuse to give this evening any point, and that can be fun. But for most of us there is a sort of obligation to answer that question, at some point two thirds of the way through the evening. And you can't funk that, you can't pretend that isn't what people want when they go to an evening in the theatre.
Just as you've raised Beckett, so how do you relate to Beckett, or how do your plays counterpoise against those of Beckett?
It's true that I can't think of anybody more opposite than me. I liked him very much as a man, and I don't think you could meet Samuel Beckett without knowing that you were in the presence of a very extraordinary person who'd lived a very extraordinary life and thought very profoundly about the kind of theatre he wanted to create. But his view of life is a polar opposite to my own, it's true.
Let's talk a bit about some of your early years. Your childhood has been described, maybe by yourself, as one where your mother was anxious, your father was footloose, and you were the little boy intuiting that something was wrong but not knowing what it was. Was that a pretty exact description?
I think so, and I think that as you get older, I can see that an awful lot of my feeling in life has been to do with fatherlessness. My father was a sailor, and he was away ten or eleven months of the year, and when he came back he would sort of flood money and excitement into our lives, very very briefly, and then give the impression he was bored. And I do think that that left a certain anomie in me, and a certain feeling that I wanted... I grew up wanting my life to be more interesting than I felt it could be when I was a child.
Oh your mother simply couldn't fill those gaps that your father left?
My mother was a very very sweet, kind, generous, decent person, who was absolutely terrified of life, and whose idea of living was to avoid life. And what she wanted was peace and tranquillity. And that was true I think by the way of a whole generation, in other words those of us who missed the Second World War had no clue why everyone around us was saying well let's have some peace and quiet, oh isn't the peace and quiet lovely. Well for many of them was a very good reason why peace and quiet was lovely, because they'd been through horrendous experiences which we had missed. But that quietism in my mother and the absence of my father, it did undoubtedly leave me with this very very strong urge to make my life richer and fuller. I wanted to do everything I possibly could to make my life interesting.
And is this partly why you write so well for women? That the parts that you write and the roles that you give women - I mean the roles in your plays - are as strong and vivid as they are? It's a kind of belated tribute to your mother?
I don't think of it like that, I think of it, it's always just seemed to me completely anomalous that fifty per cent of the parts in plays shouldn't be for fifty per cent of the human race. It just seemed to me the way it should be, and that's the way I naturally find myself writing. I also find myself stimulated by the leap of imagination - in other words the one thing I've never written about is myself, not directly. And I'm not interested in writing about people like me. I've always been stimulated by imagining something I'm not.
Do you see yourself as a child of the sixties, which after all you are exactly - you were twenty-one in 1968. Was that an annus mirabilis for you? Do you recall feeling that sense of anger with what society was and it wasn't changing fast enough?
I think we more had a sense that things could not go on as they were. All through the sixties and seventies I had an apocalyptic feeling, which was that the contradictions between what this country was pretending to be, the fantasy of influence and power, and the fantasy of these ridiculous institutions, which of course would include my school and my university, and the church - institutions that I knew very well - the fantasy of what they were compared with the reality of how things were around them, that disparity seemed to me likely to end in some implosion. And for me it was never going to be revolution. I went to be taught by Raymond Williams, who was an extremely distinguished Marxist teacher, but his idea that there could be a revolution which would be conventionally centred through an urban working class in Britain , just seemed to me completely pie in the sky. So most of my friends simply thought that some sort of violence lay ahead. That's what we all felt. And that feeling after all became common through society in the 1970s.
You began life as a director, not as a playwright. Would you have been content do you think, and at the time did you assume that that is what you would be if you stayed in the theatre?
...a director. Now what sort of director are you?
Well it's so become not my life that... When I started, I think Richard Eyre, who employed me as a director at the Nottingham Playhouse, said I was the most fearless director he'd ever seen in the sense of daring to interfere with actors' own plans for their own performances. I had absolutely no compunction about saying no no no you're completely wrong. Simon Callow said being directed by me was rather like being, being an engine that had been taken into the garage and laid out with every single piece on the floor, but that I did at least hang around to put you back together again - which was nice of him to add. But there was a fearlessness to my direction, because I was so driven by an urgency which I now don't wholly understand. And the urgency was that I had to get my vision on the stage. And I was an unpopular and much disliked person in the theatre.
What did they say, that you were dictatorial?
No, not the actors, but other people thought that I was ambitious in the manner of my behaviour throughout that period. And I was not a popular young man. And...
Do you think that was fair?
I think I was very very driven. I think I had to get my version of what I wanted a play to be up onto the stage, and a lot of the texts that I was producing were not good enough to do that. And I think because they weren't good enough to do that I was driven onto the next one, and I think there was a ruthlessness about my manner in getting something that was approximate to my vision. And by the time I did 'Plenty', and I found in Kate Nelligan I think the supreme actor of my work - I worked with her four times and I felt with Kate, ah I... - you know like a musician finding the instrument they've been looking for - ah Kate's the person who can articulate the vision that I want on the stage. And once I felt that, once I'd got it on the stage, then I've been happy since to let my plays be directed by other people, because I think I... I was trying to find my own voice, and the means by which I did it was not just through text but it was through production as well.
But when you first wrote, your first play, 'Slag', I think it was almost written by accident, a play about revolutionary feminism. Was it actually easy to write? Did you find it easy to write?
I think it was ridiculously easy to write, and I think that I probably wrote it far too fast, and that when I saw it then the way I describe it is that you then have to curl up in the gulf between what you intend and what the audience is receiving. And that's the moment at which you realise, oh I see this playwriting business is not as easy as it looks. And that's when you also begin to discover that of course the person who writes the plays isn't quite you. You know I was trying to write by will, I wanted to will work into existence. And of course it takes a certain amount of time to discover that your artistic personality is not you, you can't do what you want to as a writer.
How did you begin to work that out from thinking I know what this play is going to be and I'm damn well going to make it what I want it to be?
Because I went into the theatre with political aims, and if you have political aims you could make certain rational decisions, couldn't you, which would be you'd only write about the most important subjects, you'd only write for television because you'd reach the maximum number of people, you'd never bother with anything called nuance because that would just confuse people, so you'd go for strong, virile narrative all the time - well the very fact that no such creature exists, no writer that I describe exists anywhere in the world. There isn't a writer like that. And the reason there isn't a writer like that is because unfortunately creative writing is not at the command of the will, it's at the command of the imagination. And as soon as you get into that paradox, which is that you're trying to get the theatre to do something political for what you hope is a certain political purpose, but on the other hand the work that you're creating is not the expression of that will, it's the expression of something else, then you get into a complex dialogue about art and politics which is the dialogue that the whole of my writing life has been about.
Do you write every day?
But of course you're not writing a play every day, but you write, you use words on paper every day?
Why exactly is that?
I can't imagine not. I mean I've done it for so long. I, apart from anything I become very unpleasant personally if I don't spend hours by myself.
Really? Yeah. And it almost doesn't matter what you're writing so long as you're committing some of your thoughts to paper?
And it doesn't even matter if I write. I just have to spend a lot of time by myself. If I don't I become an unbearable person.
What's your discipline when you are actually writing a play?
Well I've had various theories at different times, and every writer has different theories about how to write a play. But you know I've had theories, I've had times where I've believed that the quicker I wrote it the better it was. And certain stuff comes to you, you know you're not Mozart, but on the other hand certain stuff comes to you a lot easier than other stuff, and when that stuff comes you tend to trust it because you tend to think that there must be a reason that it's coming so easily. Or at my level of experience you do - that isn't necessarily true when you're young, but when you've written a lot of plays. And so a lot of my time is getting myself into position, and what that to me means, which I have said before, is that I think the first character that you have to get right in a play is yourself, and so you have to work out what your own attitude to your material is. And the example I give of this, which is a very simple one, is that when I was writing 'Racing Demon' I wrote the first act, and it's a play about the decline of the Church of England, and of course because it's about the decline of the Church of England the temptation is to write a play saying the decline of the Church of England is a terrible thing, and how sad it is that it's declining. And I seemed to be writing fine, and you know I was writing scenes and stuff, and then I suddenly thought, well do I actually want the Church of England to survive? I'm not a Christian, I don't believe that Christ metamorphosed, I don't believe that when you eat the bread and drink the wine that you are eating the body of Christ, I don't believe that, so why am I so desperate to suggest that it's a bad thing that this church is in decline? And so once you begin to engage with that question, then you're moving towards a much more profound work than as it were a liberal lament.
So, yes you had to sort out what your attitude was...
...before letting the characters be something?
Precisely. And so when people ask me to what degree am I a political playwright, the answer is that I do think analytically. If I don't know what I think, I can't write. And it doesn't mean that helps the writing, but it's the sine qua non of the writing. A lot of great writers write in the dark, they write without... they find their way without really knowing what it is they're up to, and they go 'well I don't know, I just like it'.
But how much of the plot will you know in advance, or sense?
You sense something about where it's going. You find this as you go along. But then it becomes clear to you that certain things will happen later.
And what about the characters? Do you know at the beginning roughly how many characters there are, or do you find at certain stages that you have to create a new character because somehow the drama has evolved in that way?
There are times at which I've set out to enjoy formal exercise. In other words I did spend a great section of my life writing for the Olivier Theatre, which is a twelve hundred seat theatre, which has to be driven by narrative, and has to involve large companies of people. It really, you know Chekhov is most unsatisfactory in there because it's not narrative-driven. And so it was true that with 'Skylight', and I did then think what a tremendous relief it would be just to write a play with only two or three characters in it. So sometimes you do feel that. But one of the things I learnt early was that every actor's evening in the theatre should be worthwhile. I used to write characters who were barmen, who said 'Good evening sir'. I don't do that any more, because it...
It's not fair to them?
I just don't want them to have a miserable evening, and it tends to imply a certain carelessness in writing as well, and I don't do it.
Nicole Kidman is quoted as saying that your words are hard to learn because the sentence structure is unusual. She's also said it was worth doing. But do you recognise...
Yeah. What does she mean?
She means that the formal demands of the dialogue are very great. I think Colin Powell's character, the actor playing Colin Powell told me that he has a sentence of a hundred and five words in it. I am not suggesting that Colin Powell speaks in sentences of a hundred and five words, I'm after a certain formal effect of giving Colin Powell sentences of that length. It's a stylistic effect. And so I always teach that it's like a musical score, and that you must learn it, you must get every note down, and that you will feel imprisoned by it. And I see actors imprisoned by it when I'm rehearsing. Actors reach a point where they hate me, and they say, you know, I know that if I say a single word wrong it sounds wrong. Once they've got every single syllable down, then, like a musician, they will find freedom, but they will never find freedom unless they learn every single word.
So that's what meant when people say that actors resent the discipline of your work. I mean in the case of the hundred and five word sentence you are not disposed to say okay which is the word or phrase that you find difficult and I'll change it?
No, any more than I wouldn't think that Shostakovich would say yes it's very hard to reach that note, I'm sorry. You know that's just not what art involves. You employ an artist and the artist's job is to achieve the piece of work.
How do you get that absolute sense that the hundred and five words are placed in exactly the right order, and that... how do you know that they are right? Where is the sense of rightness? Where does it come from?
Because as, you know Nick Hytner was just, has been hectoring on this point in directing 'Stuff Happens'. He just says you will feel it so deeply satisfying when you hit every syllable correctly. And sure enough the actors, good actors, can hear it. There are certain actors who can't play my stuff. I won't name them, but there are certain extremely good actors who just say to me I can't play your work. A good musician may say I'm very very good but don't give me Dvorak, I can't do it. And a couple of actors I've had, who are really distinguished actors, just can't do my work.
So you don't re-write once you're in the rehearsal theatre, well unless you're satisfied that somehow...
If I can feel that the actor really isn't going to achieve it, then I have on occasions eased it for them. But you know what one is fighting all the time is the pernicious spread of naturalism, and actors are so used now to doing television, where they perform the action first and then they say the line, so that the emotion is in the look and it's followed by the line. I'm an old-fashioned playwright, like Shakespeare, like Shaw, that the emotion is in the line. And if you play the emotion separate from the line you'll get into terrible formal trouble. And so I've had a lot of the most distinguished actors in the country shouting at me, but they shout at me in a perfectly good-humoured way, knowing that if only they can get it right they'll be free. And then you watch them. The productions of my work are always better after twenty, thirty, forty performances - you go back and you see an actor who has struggled, and they are completely free, and they go, 'I don't know why I ever had any difficulty with this.'
As a person, as a writer, you've been described as both a romantic and an optimist, and of course they're certainly not mutually exclusive. You also say that you're dreadfully restless. I mean that's a lot to get into one person - romantic optimistic, dreadfully restless. How do you see yourself?
I think curious, and I think that the... I can see that when I did 'Via Dolorosa' that it re-awakened something in me, which was that everyone said oh I see you're a journalist, and in fact various people have written saying well he really should have been a journalist and he's a better journalist than he is playwright. But what I think they mean is that I'm curious about the world, and again I would put this back to living in a place that was very very boring when I was young. And so I'm always pleased to be anywhere new, and always fascinated by it, and I loved going to Israel and the Palestinian territory - I was completely fascinated by everything I saw. I never lose my curiosity. The train, you know entering the world of the railways, was just bliss, I just thought it was fascinating. So I'm learning something new. And so I do have a... That's really the motivating force that stops me staling. I still love finding out about new things.
Given that your last three works - 'Via Dolorosa' - Israel, Palestine - and 'The Permanent Way' about the trains, and 'Stuff Happens', about Iraq - you've done those all in three, four years. This is as the Communists used to say, 'No accident, comrades'. I mean there must be something, apart from the curiosity, deeply satisfying about engaging with politics in a dramatic way.
Oh yes. And also, you know, I mean the thing with the railways was suggested to me, it wasn't my idea. Max Stafford-Clark came to me. And it isn't journalism, and I resent the idea when people describe it as journalism, because actually although there is journalism behind it, meaning I've enjoyed the process of finding out, it's not actually a play about the railways, it's a play about grief. And it's a play about a group of people who've lost their most, either their partners or their closest relatives in train crashes, and who therefore, both as a matter of justice and as a matter of personal healing - and I defy anyone to disentangle the two - must find out whether the death of the person they loved most in the world was necessary or not. Did this have to happen?
So it's also about responsibility?
The responsibility of the others - grief and responsibility?
But now given what you'd read in the newspapers, what we'd all read in the newspapers, could you have written something like 'The Permanent Way' without doing the research? What did the actual research contribute?
Well you meet the people don't you? And so the minute you meet the people, then you light up. And you light up inside. I mean 'The Permanent Way' was very interesting because for four days people came in and talked about the destruction of the nationalised railway by a Conservative government hell-bent on ideological mayhem. And I thought yeah, great, but no play. There's no play there. There's an article, but there isn't a play.
Even though that was probably what you felt?
But then the minute a woman comes in and says, 'I have to find out about my son's death, because if I don't find out about my son's death I've failed to honour him', you just feel this unbelievable both respect for her and excitement, theatrical excitement, about going, 'Oh I see'. And as she says, what they hate about these groups is they're not the hysterical bereaved, they're the informed bereaved. And once you meet these groups then, apart from being artistically excited, you want to write something which doesn't let them down. You want to do something which is worthy of the work they've done, and then it becomes fantastically exciting. And so what I'm saying is that whereas a piece of journalism can be excellent, and only about itself, a play also has to have a metaphorical level, and I would say both 'Stuff Happens' and 'The Permanent Way' have a metaphorical level as well as a journalistic level. Some of the confusion and difficulty I make for myself is that by choosing to write about very contemporary subjects, they tend to be discussed journalistically. The first reaction to 'Stuff Happens' is, where did he get the scoop about the British having Osama Bin Laden being told not to capture him, which is a really boring reaction to that play, but that's the level at which certain people are going to react to that play.
At what stage did you take the decision, if it was a decision, that in 'Stuff Happens' you would, it seems to me, chance your arm more and say I will now write important scenes where there is little documentary evidence but not much, but I will imagine what happened when Blair and Bush were together, what happened when Colin Powell was having a row with the rest of the Cabinet. And that's significantly different from anything you've done before isn't it?
That's you as the playwright saying on top of the documentary, I now write what I think happened.
Yes, I wouldn't say I wrote what I think happened, I wrote what I would regard as the Shakespearean... I mean the model is Shakespeare, in other words.
Schiller? Not Schiller?
Not Schiller as much as Shakespeare, in the sense that Shakespeare re-invents events for thematic purposes, and he gives you... You know people can argue forever about whether Richard III was very like Richard III or wasn't, but the character of Richard III is a very very rich character. I'm afraid the character of George Bush, in 'Stuff Happens', is quite a rich character, and I think people begin to recognise the real George Bush and see the real George Bush a little bit differently when they've seen the play.
But did you feel a certain sense of liberation, or particular satisfaction, in writing those scenes?
Because they seem to me to be the stuff that, that is you as the...
They're the fun.
Yes, you as the playwright saying now imagination and fact together.
Yes. Those are the ones that are fun, and anywhere where I could take it in that direction I did, and I, you know my only regret would be that in the time I had to write the play that I didn't, I couldn't do more of that. And the more I did of it, the happier I was.
Ah, so if you did another play like that, which I imagine that you will, you would chance your arm and say I know enough about this subject to be able to, and I'm going to recreate scenes for which there's actually no documentary evidence?
It's such a complicated area, but there are certain projects. I will give you an interesting example. I refused, as a lot of people did, to write the film about Sylvia Plath, and I simply said I had no moral right to imagine the marriage of two people who I don't know. I don't know why Sylvia Plath put her head in the oven. I similarly refused, as much artistic and moral reasons, to write about David Kelly, which I was asked to write about. And I said I just, I don't know why David Kelly committed suicide, and I sort of feel very very queasy about speculating. However I'm perfectly happy to speculate about these people, because they have taken us into a new situation. As they would say, after 9/11 all the rules have changed.
The world has changed, and I think to try and understand what they have been trying to do, and their reasons for trying to do it, I'm entitled to speculate, and I don't think it's damaging to them. And I've had no complaints. People ask for 'Stuff Happens' to be shown to lawyers, and I said I just can't see how anybody in this play is going to come and say oh no no no no I wasn't saying that or you know I don't use that word you know.
Mm. 'Via Dolorosa' - let's go back to that, because apart from it being an extraordinary personal journey, and you've turned it into a monologue, which you acted - how searing was the experience of putting yourself on the stage? Because there the author, the actor, are conflated. It was a pretty tough experience wasn't it?
Yes it was absolutely nerve-wracking. And there was some point at which I felt that it was an elaborate practical joke of Stephen Daldry's, and that I would... When I was rehearsing, I simply had no compass. I had no means to measure whether what I was doing was any good at all. I mean because I had no idea what it felt like to act, I simply... When Stephen would give me a piece of direction, I would say to the assistant, 'Is he subtly leading me to the scaffold at the Duke of York's Theatre on Friday night? Am I going to walk out and just everybody is going to roar with laughter?' But I honestly, if the assistant had said to me, 'Yes that's what Stephen Daldry is doing', I would have believed that assistant as much as I believed Stephen Daldry. I had no reason to believe, because I had no measure.
Now the passion in that play, and the passion is mainly expressed through what people said to you - or that is how it's presented - but the passion is really yours isn't it?
I mean the passionate anger on both sides, and a good deal of the time.
Yes. I mean obviously it's a piece of fiction, in the sense that I am a dramatic character in it. And actually, to coin a phrase, I am not I. In other words, I'm at times in the play I deliberately make myself a little more ingenuous, or I make myself a little angrier, or I make myself a little stupider, because I'm the character through whom the audience sees the whole thing. And so like Boswell, you know Boswell is the most brilliant construct - I very much doubt whether Boswell was really like Boswell, but he constructed this great character called Boswell through whom you could see Johnson. And that's exactly what you have to do, you know. But the effect was that people felt they knew me. And the extraordinary thing was that I would always have these crowds of people outside the stage door every night who wanted to continue the dialogue which they believed they had been having for the previous ninety minutes.
So which bits of you did you not put on the stage or did you deliberately withhold?
My own personal political feelings about the situation are not in the play really. I mean I think you probably sense that my disbelief at some of the things the settlers say, and I think you sense probably my own personal frustration perhaps at the inability of the Palestinians to put their own case to the best, but having said that, I have developed, and had at the time far stronger views - in quotes - opinions - in quotes - than I allow into the play. Because frankly the area is full of opinions, and my opinion as a citizen is no more value or less value than anybody else's.
See one of the things that strikes me about these three - 'Via Dolorosa', 'Permanent Way', 'Stuff Happens' - is that you sometimes lean over backwards to be fair, and the sense of - or of the young man or actor, that was thirty years ago - the probably intentional unfairness you may have had when you were raging against society, and now the almost excessive sense of fairness that you put in, would you recognise that, as if you are not going to let anybody say that you are biased, propagandist or unfair?
I, that's not the way I look at it. I know that is said, and it isn't how I think. What happened to me was that I raged through the seventies, sixties and seventies, for a certain change in society, which did not happen. Far from society taking a turn to the left, it took a savage turn to the right. And you've talked today about my being so productive and writing so much - actually there's a period in which I more or less stopped writing. And I more or less stopped writing because after I'd written 'Plenty', where I had achieved, and you know it's the work of mine to which I still go back in my mind more and more - doctors, social workers, even people in the Labour Party who were trying to ameliorate the vile effects of Thatcherism - in other words Thatcherism was essentially an intellectual doctrine which was cooked up by some Right Wing irresponsible people, grafted, where everyone said, just as Wolfowitz has been the same to the Iraqi invasion movement, 'Oh wouldn't it be great if we invaded Iraq', 'Oh wouldn't it be great if we could prove that the poor are dependent on welfare'. And without examining these concepts, they're put into practice by politicians, and the people left to deal with the consequences are on the front line. And it's true that the people on the front line became my heroes, and I began to write as it were positively about people who are doing their best to mitigate the effects of Thatcherism.
You were right to remind me about the period when you didn't write, because of course that then raises the question of if as you now say you have to write every day and you're a very unpleasant person, you feel you're a very unpleasant person when you don't, what was it like in that near decade when you weren't writing?
Terrible, absolutely awful. It wasn't a decade, it was probably five or six years.
Well that's still a very long time.
I wrote rubbish, or I didn't write anything I could, you know, that I was satisfied with.
Did you throw it away?
Yeah. And I just was horrible, and I was just grievously discontented. But I would say it was because I didn't have an analysis, and I only began to get an analysis, and I always attribute this to Howard Brenton, that when we wrote 'Pravda' together, which was exactly twenty years ago because one morning... we were writing in Brighton, and one morning we went down to see the Grand Hotel blown up, which I will never forget, the wedding cake collapsed, and we were writing in Brighton then, and I think the two of us spending a certain amount of time together, like old-fashioned comrades, sitting down and saying what is this phenomenon which is Thatcherism? What does it mean? And only in that period did I begin to find a way of coming to terms with what was happening to the country. And once I'd been through that period of analysis then out we came blazing with 'Pravda'.
But it's interesting, you've gone through agit prop, I don't think you've ever written propaganda, I suppose it is the connection with individuals, with individual characters, that makes your particular mix of politics and human drama such a different one and such an interesting one. I mean it's always politics and people with you isn't it?
I think it was for a lot of writers, but you know I had the luck not to be a Marxist. And in a sense I can see that creatively, whereas a whole generation of Marxist writers have had a much tougher time, I only had to deal with Thatcherism. I only had to deal with the end of the seventies and the disappointment of everything that I'd wanted, and I dealt with that. And I've found a way of continuing to write.
So by luck you mean that you didn't live under Marxism, not that instinctively you happened not to be a Marxist?
I didn't buy Marxism, and I think the writers who bought Marxism, when the Wall came down, they have had a much longer period of silence than I had, because basically the question of how you reconstruct a view of the world after you've had such, the strong view of the world that Marxism gave them, and I, you know the silence of Marxist writers is far longer and more conspicuous than the silence, as it were, of Socialist Democrats like myself.
You're very aware, you're said to be very aware of playwrights who burn out in the fifties, or who are just forgotten in the fifties, and there is a long list of bitter, still living playwrights, who've suffered that. I mean I can see why you should be worried, but does this keep you awake?
Well the question, if you're talking about the question of the posthumous, then that's a lottery, we know that.
No it's what happens in the next twenty years.
Yeah what happens in the next twenty years. I mean the writer we all are completely fascinated by, any writer is fascinated by, is Philip Roth, because Philip Roth is if you like the example of the man who has written his greatest work in his sixties. He's written one very great novel after another in his sixties. And I said to Philip, 'How have you done this?' And he said, 'By going up a mountain and living alone.'
Mm, but you don't do that. I mean the... Though you spend a lot of time alone?
Yeah, you have to spend the time alone, and you have to be not frightened of the loneliness.
If you stopped writing today, or if suddenly people stopped commissioning you, what do you think is missing? Because I think the implication of that then is, what do you feel there is still to do?
Well you want to write a great play don't you?
And you think you haven't?
I don't know if I have.
Mm. But even if you hadn't, what would you say? I suppose what can anybody say? I've done my best?
Yeah I've probably, you know, I wasn't as it were, you know I wasn't David Gower, in the sense that I wasn't like Chekhov - born with this gift that he... though he honed his gift very very hard, but he was born with this divine gift. I wasn't born with that divine gift. I've had to work to achieve what I achieved, but I would hate to die without having ridden my talent as hard as possible.
And how, what do you do to ride that talent?
I think what you have to do is keep yourself open to experience, and I think that the danger is you close down, and most writers, when I talk about this thing of, you know, disappearing in your forties and fifties, is you think you know what you believe and you cease to be interested in discovering about things, about new things. And so I deliberately put myself into new and I hope dangerous and frightening sit... The reason I wrote 'Stuff Happens' is perfectly simple. I wrote 'Stuff Happens' because it scared the living daylights out of me. And the National Theatre came to me and said there's got to be a play about Iraq or our new policy of trying to you know get young people into the theatre is going to look stupid this year because we're going to do a musical and a couple of classical plays in the ten pound season. We need a play about Iraq . I said I'm not free to write it, I don't have any time. I can't start working until March 15th, and I... They said okay well you'll start working on March 15th and rehearsals will begin on July 7th. I took it because it was so terrifying.
And was the process terrifying?
Yes, I was absolutely scared out of my mind. But the funny thing is, and the curious thing is, that having done this period of incredibly hard work, actually the play, as Nick Hytner said, he changed less in rehearsal than any play he had ever worked on. By the time we got it to the first day of rehearsal, it was a finished play. And normally I re-write a lot. On this I didn't re-write at all.
So that suggests that when you ride your talent, as you are doing, you really have to push yourself very hard?
And that's what I want to keep on doing, and fight the dark.
David Hare, thank you very much.
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