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I’m Not Running – Review of David Hare Play at National Theatre


I’m Not Running is the title of David Hare’s new play as well as the first message delivered in the opening scene where a PR man announces to the press that Pauline Gibson has no intention of being a candidate.
David Hare, the doyen of British political playwrights, weaves the personal lives of Pauline, a surgeon, and her one-time lover, lawyer Jack Gould, around the issue of the closure of a small hospital and the leadership of England’s Labour Party. A bit of sex, soaring political ambitions and a basketful of social issues are brought together to provide some good theatre
The lives of the two protagonists are examined from 1996 to today in non-chronological order. Pauline (Siân Brooke) and Jack (Alex Hassell) come from different ends of the social spectrum. He is the son of a brilliant star of the Labour Party, privileged, intelligent, self-assured, raised with all the befits of wealth and very ambitious.
She is the child of a poor, dysfunctional and violent family but is intelligent and ambitious, and becomes a surgeon. The event that catapults Pauline into public view is her opposition to the planned closure of a small hospital. Jack who is a member of parliament is in favour and in fact he has had a hand in setting the government policy to close small hospitals and replace them with large health centres that are more efficient.
Pauline takes on the fight to save the hospital and in effect the National Health Service and is supremely successful. As a result, she is elected to parliament as an independent.
The sexual tryst that Jack and Pauline had while students is put on the back burner so to speak, but the stove is not entirely turned off. Hare brings in issues of national health, equality of the sexes, the problems immigrants face and politics in general.
Meredith Ikeji (Amanda Okafor), the child of black immigrants who has graduated from Oxford University has faced discrimination. Nerena (Brigid Zengeni) is a black surgeon who cares for patients but is politically inept. Pauline’s mother Blaise (Liza Sadovy) is an abused wife and an alcoholic dying of cancer.
Joshua McGuire as Sandy Mynott, Pauline’s PR man, is a highly sympathetic character doing the impossible job of speaking for an ambitious politician.
Everything leads to the climactic fight for the leadership of the Labour Party. Jack, a cookie-cutter candidate, has all the attributes to make him a sure winner. He knows the party from the inside, he has a perfect wife and an impeccable record if you ignore a couple of indiscretions.
Pauline was elected as a one-issue candidate, she is an independent MP and not even a member of the Party. How can she compete with Jack?
Jack and Pauline are very much alike despite surface differences and as such I did not find them fully developed characters. The other characters were not given enough scope apart from Sandy.
Director Neil Armfield and designer Ralph Myers use an empty stage for the press scenes and a room on the revolving stage for the interior scenes. There is generous use of projections where we see the main characters on large screens befitting their ambitions, I suppose.
I am not sure if more intimate knowledge of British politics, especially the state of the Labour Party may have added more depth to my appreciation of the play.
In any event, the final confrontation between Pauline and Jack is, of course, over principles, personalities and the fate of the Labour Party and the country.
The last words of the play will take you back to the opening scene and the title of the play.
I’m Not Running by David Hare continues on the Lyttleton stage of the National Theatre, South Bank, London, England.

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