THEATRE REVIEW: David Hare’s The Vertical Hour

By Ken Powell

Vertical Hour 4

KESWICK’s Theatre by the Lake has opened up its summer season at the intimate studio theatre with one of the more soul-searching productions possible.

For those who are interested in both global politics and deep philosophical questions of the self, The Vertical Hour is one to watch.

Set mostly in a garden in rural Shropshire not long after the Western entanglement in Iraq, the play focuses on two rather different characters.

Nadia, played by Joanna Simpkins, is a fiery former war correspondent turned academic professor at Yale and plagued by her part in persuading the White House to send troops into Iraq.

Oliver, played by Roger Delves-Broughton, is the father of Nadia’s boyfriend and has his own demons – not least an accident which had tragic consequences.

Between them, through conversation, they lay bare their weaknesses.

You might expect that resolution springs from this baring of souls, but Hare’s play isn’t so simplistic.

The theme is stated explicitly when Nadia talks of the point of politics: reconciling the irreconcilable.

But this is the theme too for the personal lives of all five of the characters we see here.

There is reconciliation, yet … there isn’t.

I came away with more questions than I went in with: Was the war in Iraq right? Is it better to do something than do nothing? What is the nature of love? Why do we choose the partners in life that we do? I like to have my thinking challenged this way and so I was pleased with the production. Like all good art, this play challenges your perceptions of what is and what should be.

Surprisingly, despite the heavy nature of some of the issues, David Hare managed to balance the script with humour and, in the hands of the two main actors, there were plenty of laughs – not bellyfuls but appropriate and fitting to the mood.

It is most unusual to find a writer who can balance the two.

He just about keeps the dialogue from descending into melodrama and navel-gazing self-pity, while lightening the tension, but without ruining the atmosphere with absurdity and farce.

In fact, this makes the play perhaps one of the most human and certainly British of all productions.

We don’t see stereotypes dealing with stereotypical dramas (indeed, it is hard to pin down just what either character is struggling with) and coming up with stereotypical resolutions as a result.

This play starts messy and ends messy. Only the messiness has changed over the course of time. Isn’t that just like life?

The Vertical Hour runs until Saturday 5 November and tickets are available at the box office.