What We Talk About When We Talk About: Gethsemane by David Hare

Part One of a series in which Our Hero dissects why he liked or disliked a particular thing at a reasonable length, because he cant leave well enough alone and just enjoy something for what it is, can he? gethsemane

So, there’s Gethsemane, by David Hare.  And it’s fulfilling a function.  As a middling example of the Theatre of Dinner Party Whinge,  it’s packing them in at the National at present, assuring a semi-rapt audience nightly that all is wrong with the world in exactly the ways that make them most comfortable.  Which is all well and good: far be it from me to deny any man the inalienable right to batter on tirelessly and at length about very little at all, and I’m sure the dining tables of north and south west london are a mildly  happier place for its existence.

Still, what is exceptional about the experience of watching something like Gethsemane is exactly how much it  conforms to your lowest expectations of this type of exercise.   The hollowness of it.  The intellectual laziness.  How little it expects of its audience, and how readily that audience appears to lap it up. 

What Gethsemane is, in the final analysis, is not so much a play as  a recognition delivery system, a mildly complicated mechanism for the production of nice warm feelings of self justification in the pleasure centres of the middle-class brain.  And it works in three ways. 

First, in assembling a series of not-really-topical political incidents of varying importance over the past couple of years (Levy, Jowell, William Straw) Hare is, supposedly, encouraging the audience into a guessing game  of political allusion.   

If so, it’s of the type I spent most of Christmas playing with my nephew, though the delight of the audience at exercising its capacity to recognise extremely well publicised figures seemed no less genuine than a one year old’s at the fact that I kept giving him his nose back.  See PM with drum kit, think Tony Blair, feel clever, laugh to indicate cleverness to group, receive endorphin hit.  Happy Days.

Second, there is the studious (and admirably complete) checking off of the list of Fuzzy Left political arithmetic, a very receptive pleasure centre which Hare tickles with all the bored skill of an aging lothario:

New Labour = Bad, because New Labour = Corrupt and Just Not Right Because They Let Us Down. 

Teachers = Good.  Too-clever-for-their-own-good Jumped Up Jews = Bad.

Iraq war = Bad.  Keeping Your Integrity = Good.

Affluence = Bad.  Caring = Good.  

Immigration controls = Being Racist, opposing immigration controls = Morally Superior. 

The Whole Darn World = In a bit of a bloody mess, really, but The Enlightened Middle Classes = Right all along, and why doesn’t anyone realise it? 

And third is the creation, extraordinary in its subtlety, of the sense that what we are watching is Important Political Theatre.  This is achieved by assembling all of the component elements of a piece of political theatre into one place (good actors, a theatre, a touch of didacticism, recognisable political tropes,  some dialectics, a vaguely Pinteresque air of menace, heavy-handed symbolism and so on and so forth) and having your script (which is comprised of empty platitudes and a vague fog of middle-class malaise) occur in the same place at the same time .  

That way, it’s possible to have the audience hear a very competent actress say  “Once it was possible to do good by being good. Now the only way to do good is by being clever.”, and interpret that statement as a piece of valid political commentary (if you even begin to suspect that it actually might be, perform the following mental exercises: try to work out when that “once” refers to.  Once you’ve tired of that, try to think what someone like Nye Bevan would make of that statement).  It’s semiotic sleight of hand at a high level, all machine-tooled to get those reward systems in the brain buzzing with the empty crackle of an E rush.

And, well, broadly it seems to work. Which is all well and good, I suppose. But let’s not call it a play. 

If it were a play, it might have something interesting or insightful to say about politics.  For instance, it might expand on the idea (expounded by the almost anti-semitically broad eminence gris Otto) of the Labour Party in government as a machine dedicated solely to the cause of Doing What Works – it might even develop that out into some thinking about the fact that the failure to do just that through the application of a ideological programme in foreign policy, is the real betrayal of the majority of the people who voted for Labour as a centre left party that could deliver genuine social change.  It might even discuss whether the idea of an ideological government is necessary or even wanted following the excesses of the twentieth century.  Which would be pretty interesting given the fact that the grace notes of the Obama campaign presented fair minded, pragmatic bipartisanship as “Change” and “Hope” following 8 years of ideological rule

But it’s not a play, so that line of questioning is played from a stacked deck of authorial and directorial choices that puts the thought into the mouth of a caricature and allows it to be successfully rebutted by a facetious one-liner about the war in Iraq (boo!).

If it were a play, it might feature some commentary about recognisable people engaged in some form of recognisable (or, if you must, symbolic) interaction.

If it were a play, it might attempt to make the audience think, or challenge their expectations, or try to say something.

If it were a play, it might attempt to convey or evoke some strong feeling, like humour, or anger, or hatred, or shame.

But it’s not a play, it’s the drawled voice of someone who can’t even be bothered preaching to the choir.  After all, preaching is a bit, well, uncivilised. And anyway, why bother preaching when you know that a catalogue of winks, smirks and raised eyebrows will do?  It’s the intellectual equivalent of watching Kenneth Williams in the later Carry Ons.  But without the self loathing to make it interesting.  Okay, Charles Hawtrey, then.

 "I write plays that stick it to the Man. Snigger."  David Hare, yesterday.









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Dealing with the recession, John Mclane-style 4.0: Live free or suck rather badly.

My name is Harry Ellis, and I had nothing to do with this ad.

My name is Harry Ellis, and I had nothing to do with this ad.

Good to see that Aviva (who no doubt devour my ramblings voraciously) responded to my musings of t’other day by spending tens of thousands of pounds painting a big fat digital bullseye on their collective arse , taking over youtube.  The comments are as you might expect, though the reference to paying millions to a marketing firm staffed exclusively by cocaine snorting twats.”  is the one that really warmed me up something chronic on this damp and somewhat dispiriting Monday.
On a (slightly) more serious note, though, one commentator among many hit the (fairly obvious) nail on the (entirely predictable) head with the following:
CCowell125 (35 minutes ago) Show Hide
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It would probably be more “exciting” if the company didn’t spend millions on a name change, and instead paid out some of the legit claims it ignores, from customers who have already been ripped off by Norwich Un… I mean “Aviva”‘s extremely high rates.”Norwich Union has one of the worst repuations as a business with the public. And changing names rather than sorting out it’s issues is only going to lower people’s already negitive thoughts on the company. “
Which just goes to show that in advertising in the UK, particularly when THE SKY IS FALLING, it is increasingly difficult to fool any of the people any of the time.  Even those who can’t spell or use apostrophes.


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Flaunting the bicuspid: 4 terms for the new millenium


Being an activity that is intended to manage the transition between Boom-Town-Gordon-Brown-era premiumised marketing and recessionary, Cthulu Economy-era marketing.  As in “A bicuspidal strategy for 09/10 is to de-emphasise the provenance of our Hertfordshire 28-day Pickled Larks Tongue, while proportionally rightsizing our spend on the Economy Milk lead-content clarification copy.”

Also referred to as  Premolar Repositioning.


Playing the Petraeus Card:

Q2 09 Account Direction technique employing scrupulous documentation and blank-faced neutrality in order to imperceptibly distance oneself from the results of a tranche of activity that had previously seemed appropriate but in the current context is a monumental and tragic waste of time, manpower and cash which is only justified due to the amount of said resources already committed.


Going Saprophage:

Realignment of target audience expectation based on a realistic assessment of reality in a nation descended into post-apocalytpic cannibal anarchy.  As described in the landmark work “Lower Than A Catfish Belly: How To Swallow Your Pride And Keep Little Alfie In Boarding Fees”.  “Well, that’s that I suppose”, said Piers, sighing “I really wanted to get this out in Conde Naste but fuck it: lets think more saprophagically, put some tits on the bottle and  do a two for one giveaway in the Star”.



The use of colour and or non-fractional space.

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Great spoken introductions of our time. Part the 1st: “Motor City is Burning” by MC5

Folk Album of the year, 1969.

Folk Album of the year, 1969.

The Album: Kick Out the Jams.

The Speaker: Rob Tyner.

The Time: 1968.

The Words:

Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you something.

I hear a lotta TALK, by a lotta HONKIES, sittin on a lotta MONEY, tellin ME they’re high society.

But I’ll let you know something.


Cultural Impact:

Less well-know than the infamous first line of the album (possibly still the single rockingest statement ever made by anyone not John Wayne, BB King or Joe Frazier), the introduction to this song, part hymn to urban destruction, part brilliantly/appallingly lazy blues cover, establishes its true epochal significance in the following key ways:

1. The “High Society” pun.

As a perfect example of late sixties/ early seventies political rhetoric, beautifully living up to the Evangelical fervour/political cunning of its delivery only to those who have spent the past five years experimenting with the human capacity to get stoned.

Because, you see, “High” is for stoned as well, you see.

2. The “Honky” reference

Combining seamlessly with point 1. to deliver a one two-punch of American Beserk dialogue that will – surely – never be surpassed outside the reels of The Warriors or Fort Apache: the Bronx, this is also the only extant recorded instance of a white man referring to “Honkies” with no irony whatsoever.  Made possible only by the fact that Tyner looked like no honky ever had since the move to agrarian culture:

Rob Tyner - No Honky.

Rob Tyner - No Honky.

it also immediately secured the MC5 the right to set up The White Panthers ( which they did, much to Huey P Newton‘s surprise, in that year).

3. Suggested Association of MC5 with Honkies

The implication – that Tyner, Fred “Sonic” Smith, et al had actually been present at any social occasion featuring either really honky Honkies  or  anyone referring to themselves as “High Society” since they were teenagers – is simply so mind-bending in and of itself that the unprepared listener can often find themselves in a reverie clear into the last chorus of Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Ramalama Fa Fa Fa), more than ten minutes later.

The identity of said Honkies (often suspected to be David Niven and Audrey Hepburn), has never been confirmed.

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The Evil That Men Do: Part one of an irregular series paying tribute to the greatness of The Maiden by showing examples of total beltappery in all its forms

My name is Edward T Head, and I endorse this irregular feature

My name is Edward T Head, and I endorse this irregular feature

And what a way to start.  Marina Hide leaves little to add in her dissection of the soon-to-be-notorious Owen Wilson/Rolex PR release.  I’ll do little other than note my continued astonishment that an actual human being sat down and wrote this.  They sat down at a desk, probably using some form of electronic writing device, wrote it, then sent it to someone else, who signed it off, several people had a big meeting about it, with coffee and biscuits and whatnot, and then they sent it out.  Actual people.

Owen Wilson

Owen Wilson

Existential Despair

Existential Despair

Rolex submariner, saviour of mankind.

Rolex submariner, saviour of mankind.


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Dealing with the recession, John Mclane-style


Is it just me, or is now perhaps not the time to be running one of those “look-how-much-money-we-can-burn! We’re-MASSIVE!” ads?  I’m sure I read somewhere that the FS industry was in for a bit of a downturn in or something…

Okay, it’s just me then.

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The Five Upsides of 2009’s Economic Cthulu

Alan Greenspan, Dread Sleeper of The Sunken City of R'lyeh, this morning.

Alan Greenspan, Dread Sleeper of The Sunken City of R'lyeh, this morning.

1. Knife fights over tins of dog food top spectator sport in Britain by December.

2. Having access to lots of lovely consumer debt so I can Get The Economy Working Again by buying a plasma TV for bathroom.

3. UK’s imbeciles wiped out in closing-down-sale-related deaths.

4. VAT decrease brings White Heat of 2.5% savings to british economy, restores empire.

5.  Creativity inspired by hobolike existence: beat poetry,  one-string guitar and jews harp proficiency reach all time highs.

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