The Vertical Hour at the Park
There’s a remarkable prescience to the timing of the Park Theatre’s revival of Sir David Hare’s The Vertical Hour. Nigel Douglas’ production of the play, which has at its heart a debate on the morality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by coalition forces, opened to the public on the very day that UK politicians voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resumption of military action in the war-torn region.
Taking emphatic command of her role, Thusitha Jayasundera plays Nadia – a Yale professor of politics and a former war correspondent who embodies the academically minded confidence in the all-healing power of democracy that led the west towards intervention in the Middle East a decade ago. Her romantic involvement with disenfranchised ex-pat Phillip (Finlay Robertson) leads her to the picturesque Welsh borders and onto the patio of Phillip’s father – cynically liberal, grown-up 60s peacenik Oliver (Peter Davison, providing a lesson in measured gravitas).
The best of the play lies in the tightly-scripted clashes between Nadia’s pragmatism and Oliver’s idealism. The two circle each other like tigers, each looking for (and exposing) weaknesses in their opponent. Excellent chemistry between the two leads leaves those watching to wonder if their exchanges are to culminate in a flurry of hurled coffee cups or a passionate embrace. That nothing so dramatic results is symptomatic of the play’s weaknesses.
Perhaps inevitably for a work concerning itself with political discourse, there is a weightiness to the piece that requires wearying effort from its audience to maintain focus throughout the 140-minute running time. For all its erudite intelligence and smart sound bites, the sense that the characters only ever speak from atop their personal soapbox leaves one yearning for a more coherent sense of the people behind the diatribe. Scenes bookending the play, in which Nadia confronts two of her students (Cameron Cuffe and Pepter Lunkese) for letting personal passions compromise intelligent assessment, seem an acknowledgement of this, but distanced from the main plot, they don’t go far enough.
As a comprehensive study of the ethics behind real-world issues that are, depressingly, no nearer resolution than they ever were, The Vertical Hour is a success. Unfortunately, this comprehensiveness comes at the cost of much in the way of an engaging emotional core.
The Vertical Hour is on at the Park Theatre until 26th October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.