I’m Not Running at the National Theatre
It’s not clear what David Hare intends I’m Not Running to be. Beyond a broad-strokes discussion about the NHS, the play is almost apolitical in how it deals with its ostensible focus, the Labour Party. At the same time, the characters feel like underdeveloped mouthpieces, a dilemma when the narrative eventually, inexplicably centres on the decades-long personal relationship between two politicians.
Single issue independent MP Dr Pauline Gibson (Sian Brooke) isn’t running for Labour leader. Or is she? As the drama bounces around the 20-year period between her mid-90s student life and present-day Westminster, it repeatedly returns to this question. And for good reason. Weighing up whether or not to put your name forwards, to try and gain power and enact change, is not something to take lightly.
Yet Hare fails to adequately portray the potential personal cost of such a huge decision; Pauline doesn’t have much of a life outside the viewpoints she is given to espouse. And that’s fine. Maybe he is more interested in the kinds of specific challenges a female MP would face en route to a leadership brawl. It’s just that this is nowhere to be seen either. At least not in any tangible sense.
The Labour Party as written by Hare seems entirely divorced from the one that exists, right now, in 2018. To put it bluntly, what is the point in producing a play dealing with whether a radical outsider candidate will run for leader, when a radical outsider candidate has not only already run, but won?
So much of the drama’s not-insubstantial running time ends up being given over to the relationship between Pauline and her one-time lover, now political enemy Jack Gould (Alex Hassell). The pair basically spend every interaction shouting at each other, with Brooke and Hassell having little chemistry together to suggest why these people would have ever been involved in the first place.
It doesn’t help that director Neil Armfield and designer Ralph Myers have overseen one of the drabbest productions put on at the National Theatre in quite a while, the stage near permanently occupied by a big, grey slap of a barely decorated room.
The entire thing is dwarfed in the Lyttelton, clearly stuck in that space due to Hare’s stature and sellability rather than any sense of ambition or risk. And that’s sort of the problem with the entire piece: it never provides a reason, beyond the writer’s name and name alone, to be given such a prominent spot, or any spot at all, at the country’s National Theatre. A political play doesn’t necessarily have to be about Brexit, or the far right, or any of 2018’s myriad issues to be relevant. But God, it can’t ignore real life entirely.
Photo: Mark Douet
I’m Not Running is at the National Theatre from 2nd October until 31st January 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.