David Hare: Theatre too middle aged and too middle-of-the-road
Double Olivier Award-winning playwright David Hare has accused artistic directors of prioritising box office takings over cutting-edge work, claiming they are confusing “what is popular with what is good”.
The acclaimed writer, whose hits include Skylight, Amy’s View and the recent adaptation of The Master Builder at the Old Vic, was speaking as part of the Festival at Hampstead Theatre. He said that his time as literary manager for the Royal Court in London at the age of 21 taught him that “anything good was going to be massively unpopular”.
He highlighted how Saved by Edward Bond, now “thought to be the great classic of the period”, played to 25% capacity, but said that theatres should be producing edgier content.
“We were taught to believe the critics are wrong about everything and if anything is of any value it will be playing to absolutely nobody. The idea of a pioneering, cutting-edge avant-garde, I am afraid, has more or less completely disappeared from the British theatre, and now you just have every artistic director with his or her eye on the box office, because that is the mood of the times,” he said.
Hare also said that the industry needed more young blood if it was to remain relevant. “Theatre does belong to the young, the news from the street has to be brought in by the young. They have to come into the theatre and say ‘You have got all this wrong, you are a cosy inward-looking art form and we are bringing the news’,” he said.
He added: “We were privileged to [be writing then], even if the reception we got was appalling, and even though so many were against us, nevertheless the theatre was replenished and refreshed.”
He said he knew of writers who have to wait until their mid 30s to get work staged and said: “Unless we can get the young into the theatre again it won’t seem as important, I don’t think.”
Hare, whose new play The Red Barn opens at the National Theatre this year, also took a swipe at critics. “That repulsion with how easy art talk is, and how hard art is [to create] in contrast, is what has driven me my whole life,” he said.
He added that new writers today tended to be encouraged at the start of their careers, but said this had not been the case for him.
“They wanted to kill us, and didn’t want us to even get out of the delivery room. They believed we would ruin the theatre because we would bring all these appalling concerns about politics and the wider world into an art form they thought should be fun and light,” he said.