AFTER its debut at National Theatre in 1978 then Broadway and a major Hollywood movie, David Hare’s celebrated play now settles into the closer confines of the Studio, as the first piece of a major retrospective of the playwright’s work at Sheffield Theatres.
Plenty was the play that confirmed Hare’s reputation as someone who could cleverly meld the personal and the political, using the central character of Susan Traherne as the prism through which to reflect the decline of post-war Britain.
After the exhilaration of working behind enemy lines in wartime France as a teenage spy, Susan spends the rest of her life looking to recapture the intensity of that experience, finding reality a drab, boring affair.
Plenty covers 20 years of Susan’s life from the war years up to the early Sixties, charting the effects of her destructive personality on those around her, in particular her long-suffering and doting husband, diplomat Raymond Brock.
Thea Sharrock’s fine production never quite overcomes two central difficulties – Susan’s deeply unsympathetic character and the episodic nature of the play as it jumps around in time – leaving the audience with a series of impressions rather than a coherent whole.
The character of Susan remains the central stumbling block. Although in many ways she is spirited and admirable woman ahead of her time, bold and plain speaking, she is also shrill, increasingly unstable and selfish, and it’s hard to care very much about her or her declining mental state.
This is in no way the fault of Hattie Morahan who is quite mesmerising in the central role: with her staring eyes, bouts of hysteria, clipped accent and blonde French pleat, she’s a combination of Sylvia Plath and a prototype Margaret Thatcher.
Edward Bennett as Brock provides some much-needed empathy for the audience, giving a subtle and moving performance as a man whose life and career is destroyed by his love for his wife.
Bruce Alexander, playing diplomat Sir Leonard Darwin, who earns Susan’s posthumous respect when he resigns over the Suez crisis, is a delight; all stiff upper lip and cynical dry humour.