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I’m Not Running review at National Theatre, London – ‘David Hare’s weak satire has nothing to say’

Sian Brooke in I'm Not Running at National Theatre, London. Photo: Mark Douet
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‘Running’ has a double meaning in this new play by David Hare: both the political sense of running for office and the figurative one of, for example, running away from something. Maybe one’s past or oneself. But it’s okay if you didn’t get that because Hare explains it – carefully – in this weak anatomy of a politician.

The past that Pauline Gibson is running away from includes being a doctor and having an alcoholic mother. She was elected as an independent MP on the single issue of saving a local hospital and is now considering running for leadership of Labour, a party she doesn’t yet belong to.

She butts up against old boyfriend Jack, a card-carrying, lifelong party member, and they play out their different styles of politics.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly interesting about the story or the characters. Whenever Hare raises an ‘issue’ – FGM, the NHS – it gets bounced back and forth between two characters in a bout of fact-spewing. They just baldly explain it, as if the playwright has forgotten that these people are meant to be characters.

Even the sound of their speech, the rhythm of the snippy exchanges of dialogue, is stilted and contrived. There are too many long scenes of short lines that no one would say. An early exchange between Pauline and Jack has them reveal things about themselves that they would absolutely know if they were a couple, while in others they have blazing arguments that come out of nowhere.

The performances contribute to that lack of rhythm. Some are decent: Joshua McGuire at least brings some spontaneity to the role of Pauline’s campaign manager Sandy. And there’s one properly good moment when Pauline tries to wrest the dregs of a vodka bottle from her mum, but her mum wins out and slowly, defiantly drinks. It’s pitiful and raw, the deepest and certainly the most believable thing any character does in the play. In fact, the whole scene between Pauline and her mum works, thanks to a performance from Liza Sadovy that, though brief, is still mighty.

Siân Brooke, as Pauline, delivers her lines quite strangely, with words unnaturally elongated. She makes the shift between her 19-year-old self in 1997 and older selves in 2009 and 2018 very well, but there’s little depth.

The most three dimensional thing here is the set, but that’s about all you can say for it: the corner of a room – at points a bedroom or an office or kitchen – with white walls. It spins around a bit.

Vaguely, Hare’s play is satirical. Mostly, it just has nothing to say. Don’t shut hospitals, politicians lie. Those are the main takeaways, in scenes that aimlessly, interminably run and run.

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David Hare's weak and uninteresting examination of left-wing politicians has nothing to say