Pre-election drama

The Absence of War at Headlong Theatre, Rose Theatre and Sheffield Theatres.''By David Hare.'''Director Jeremy Herrin in rehearsals.
The Absence of War at Headlong Theatre, Rose Theatre and Sheffield Theatres.''By David Hare.'''Director Jeremy Herrin in rehearsals.

The political drama, The Absence of War, is being staged at the Crucible Theatre to tie in with the approaching General Election.

David Hare’s play about a pressurised Labour Party leader was written about the 1992 election and the fateful rally at the Sheffield Arena remembered as a misjudged show of triumphalism.

This play written 20 years ago has much to say about the political scene today, according to Jeremy Herrin, who is directing the co-production between Sheffield Theatres, the Rose Theatre Kingston and touring company Headlong of which he is artistic director.

“As far as the audience is concerned it is just a cracking drama that they can readily understand.

“It’s about a Labour leader who starts the election ahead of the polls and then he hits some obstacles and crises and it’s about what sort of man he is and how he copes with it,” he says.

At this stage we don’t know what will happen this time , he argues, beyond the fact that it promises to be a really interesting election.

“David Hare is very accurate about his assessment of a fundamental problem in British left-wing politics which is if you speak your mind do you stand a chance of being elected? It could be that we live in a fundamentally conservative culture so that any left or centre left party which wants to make any radical change has to be very careful about what it says for fear of putting off middle England.”

Wasn’t this what New Labour finally got right? “It was written before Blair and you could argue he came a cropper because it was all about getting elected and getting power.

“The fact he went on that foreign adventure (the Iraq war) has changed his legacy a bit,” he suggests. “I think that what is really interesting about the evening is that it was written before Blair but somehow anticipates it.

“That necessity to compromise has become more apparent so I am hoping the audience is going to be as amazed as I am that he got it so right back in 1994,” says Herrin who previously directed Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for the RSC and will be off to New York to oversee the Broadway opening in March.

The playwright has been involved with the production of The Absence of War making a few cuts “for clarity and pace” but the play is fundamentally unchanged.

One difference is that George Jones, as played by Yorkshire actor Reece Dinsdale, will come from Sheffield as opposed to the Londoner portrayed by John Thaw in the original.

“Northern cities have that direct connection to what we call the industrial working class and Labour is the over-riding political culture and it just made sense to me that the party leader could be a working class hero from Sheffield and it would really help the play.”

The Absence of War is at the Crucible from February 6-21 and then tours until May 9 – two days after the general election “which means we will have a new government at the end”, points out the director.