Angry Young Socialist


Plenty, 20th Century Fox, 1985

From The Nation:

Though no one would mistake Hare for a populist—his dozens of plays, adaptations, TV and movie scripts, several books, and countless newspaper columns are too cerebral for that—he has struck an antiestablishment stance since his early career. Despite multiple decorations from the highest echelons, Hare has remained a champion of the underdog, a needler of the ruling class, and, especially, a critical chronicler of his country’s often-elitist institutions. Having come of age as one of postwar British theater’s Brecht-inspired angry young (mostly) men—Howard Brenton, Caryl Churchill, David Edgar, Snoo Wilson—Hare has long regarded himself as a socialist.

After his undergraduate days, Hare rode his high horse out of Cambridge, at full gallop, and became one of the artists blazing a new path of postwar alternative theater. It’s astonishing how open and ready England seemed to receive them—and how entitled to the reception they seemed to feel. Hare formed an itinerant company with his classmate Tony Bicât, the Portable Theater, which sought to bring its plays to far-flung community spaces—churches, village halls, army camps, art galleries—with the purpose to “go in, shake them up and get out.”

Working primarily as a director at first, Hare responded to a playwright’s failure to deliver a commissioned script by dashing off his own first play in 1969. The result was a satirical critique of the left, inaugurating Hare’s clamber to a perch above his comrades. At age 21, he also became the literary manager of the Royal Court, a more establishment theater devoted to new plays, a “sweltering hothouse of defensiveness and paranoia.”

The election of Margaret Thatcher jolted Hare, and Britain’s rightward turn became the subject of many of his plays. Mendacity and pretense—the failure to behave in a way consistent with professed principles—remain the target of Hare’s most pointed attacks. He pokes most sharply in his trilogy of plays about British institutions—­Racing Demon (the church), Murmuring Judges (the law), and The Absence of War (the Labour Party)—and in some of his documentary plays, like The Permanent Way, which examines the disastrous result of Britain’s selling off its public railroads.

“Plenty’s Discontent”, Alisa Solomon, The Nation