Review – Gethsemane, National

Once it was possible to do good by being good. Now the only way to do good is by being clever.

The Home Secretary’s daughter was caught taking drugs, but was not expelled due to a party supporter and fundraiser being on the Board of Governors and buying the school a new gym, but then she ends up having an orgy which includes a red-top journalist and tells him what happened, and the Home Secretary refuses to resign from the government and stand by her corrupt businessman husband. And there’s a sub plot about a former music teacher and her husband who adopt the daughter and take her to Italy.

And quite what is the point?

It’s, of course, a political play by political-play supremo David Hare. The subject of today’s lecture from Mr Hare is the ills of political fundraising. His general point seems to be that it’s bad for political parties to extort money from rich corporates using shady methods and shady individuals; it’s also possible, says Mr Hare, that the interests of the fund-raisers, the donors and the party might diverge at some point. Anybody disagree? Anybody need to sit for two hours in the Cottesloe watching stagehands walk on and off with bits of furniture in the semi-dark to be convinced?

Quite what then is the point? It can’t be to convince us of the moral argument (since nobody disagrees), nor can it be to convince us that such things go on because it comes across as so manifestly overdone. This isn’t a Stuff Happens – an insight into a normally closed world underpinned by real characters and plausible words in their mouths – because it never feels for a moment real. The production is littered with larger-than-life pantomime heroes and villains: the rebellious teenage daughter, the good-doing music teacher, the larger than life fundraiser who runs the Royal Opera House, his Pinter-esque menacing sidekick, the too-trendy drum-playing Prime Minister, the manicured political aide. Quite, I ask again, what is the point?

Here endeth the lecture.

Gethsemane is almost over its run in London, but will be touring the provinces (Windsor, Newcastle, Brighton, Bath and Cambridge). Book through the NT website.