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Born just after the Second World War,
David Hare has explored
the private lives and the public lies of post-war Britain.
In scripts for stage and screen including Plenty,
about the disillusionment of a former female secret agent...
What you are saying is that nobody may speak.
Nobody may question.
..Racing Demon, a drama about the Church of England...
There are an awful lot of people round here in a very bad way.
And they need SOMETHING, besides silence...
..and Stuff Happens, which imagines the conversations
between Tony Blair and George W Bush, before the attack on Iraq.
David Hare has also written the screenplays for movies
including The Hours and The Reader...
'A woman's whole life...
'..in a single day.
'Just one day.'
..and has now dramatised his professional and personal past,
in a frank memoir, The Blue Touch Paper.
You've recently written an openly autobiographical play,
South Downs, which was at least based on your schooldays
and now there's a 320-page prose memoir, The Blue Touch Paper.
Do you understand yourself better as a result of writing those two works?
Oh, very much so, yes.
I'd avoided autobiographical work generally for most of my life,
and then the Terence Rattigan estate asked me to write a play
to go with The Browning Version, about my own schooldays.
And when I did that, first of all I found myself
explaining to the cast of young people what Britain was like
in the '50s and '60s - in the mid-century -
and they were just totally disbelieving.
And I did think, "Oh, we've travelled further than I realised."
But also I got a lot of letters from people -
not necessarily who'd been at school with me,
though some of them had been at school with me -
saying, "I can't put the past to bed,
"and these things that the play is about still haunt me
"and worry me and have shaped my whole life."
So I found myself wanting to write a memoir.
Which is interesting to me because
you'd previously written about the generation before yours,
the Second World War generation, and THEIR difficulty in
escaping from their past
but then you discovered it was true for your generation as well.
Well, I think my parents brought me up
to believe that I'd just missed the main event -
the main event was the Second World War,
and I hadn't been around for it.
So people were behaving in this very mysterious way in the 1950s,
because they were recovering.
So that the words "nice" and "quiet" belonged together,
whereas of course "nice" and "quiet" didn't belong together for me,
because I hadn't been through what they had been through.
But also South Downs the play, and the memoir, The Blue Touch Paper,
made me think that
the libel against the '50s for so long, that it was incredibly dull,
I now understand was, as you say,
a kind of deliberate therapeutic calm - I mean, people were in shock.
People were in shock,
but I was also being brought up in a very repressed environment.
I was, you know, a suburban boy living in a semi-detached,
first of all in Hastings, then in Bexhill,
and so the two characteristics were both post-traumatic stress,
which you noticed in a lot of the males,
but obviously also people were just sexually haywire.
Because, you know, they were living through
a period in which the injunction "be yourself", which became
so popular in the '60s and '70s,
would have meant absolutely nothing - be what, exactly?
Our next-door neighbour on the other side of the semi-detached
And she killed herself, she walked into the sea.
She took off all her clothes and walked into the sea,
which in Bexhill, if you know Bexhill,
is a peculiarly powerful thing to do.
It's a hugely symbolic way to kill yourself,
to walk into that slate-grey sea down that cold shore.
And it was, and I know it was,
out of a kind of
atmosphere of repression and inability to be allowed
to express yourself or say anything about what you are feeling
that made her kill herself.
And so the escape from that,
you know, the cultural change whereby you ARE allowed
to talk about your feelings now in...
you know, you can satirise the excess of it,
but oh, my goodness, that is so much better
than the unhappiness that was so cruel
in that atmosphere of suburban conformity.
And it's nothing but benefit that we've escaped from it.
So later, when you came to write The Hours...
Obviously very different things, different class,
but the Virginia Woolf suicide scene, that must have come back...
That's such an interesting question.
Because actually when Toni Collette came into Julianne Moore's...
And one of the reasons I wanted to write The Hours
was that Julianne Moore's character
leaves her children, and that is still a taboo -
the mother who leaves her children behind.
That was the only reason Julianne wanted to do the film,
she said, "I want to address that taboo."
And Toni Collette plays the next-door neighbour
in suburban Los Angeles in the 1950s.
-Hi. Am I interrupting?
-Oh, of course not, come in.
Are you all right?
Sit down, I've got coffee on.
-Um...would you like some?
Oh, look. You made a cake.
I thought it was going to work.
I thought it would work better than that.
-Oh, Laura, I don't understand
why you find it so difficult.
-I don't know either.
-Anyone can make a cake!
Everyone can. It's ridiculously easy.
When Toni started acting, I was completely freaked.
And I said to her,
"How do you KNOW what women were like in the 1950s?
"Because you are giving an absolutely perfect imitation
"of everybody who ever came round to tea at my mother's."
And she said, "I don't know,
"I'm just guessing it must've been like that."
But the mannerisms, the clothes, the hair -
everything was the atmosphere of those women of that time.
Keeping everything nice,
but sensing that while you're keeping everything nice,
underneath, people were simmering
with a discontent that they neither understood nor could express.
Does Ray have a birthday?
Sure he does.
-When is it?
-September. We go to the country club.
We always go to the country club.
We drink martinis, and spend the day with 50 people.
Ray's got a lot of friends.
You both have a lot of friends. You're good at it.
How IS Ray? I haven't seen him in a while.
Ray's fine. Mm.
I was quite shocked by how hard it seemed to me
you are on yourself in the memoir.
These are just a few of the phrases you use about yourself -
"a nasty little boy" on page 28
"my own deep certainty that I was unlikeable" a few pages later.
"I still hated myself" on page 78, on page 203 you're "insufferable".
On page 206 "hugely disliked",
and on page 222 "a pretty unpleasant person".
I don't think I've ever read a memoir by a politician or a sports star
in which they use ONE of those terms about themselves.
I think that as a playwright you are speculating,
and you put out a play,
and you say, "This is what I feel, does anybody else recognise this?"
And you get a response.
So that, you know, when I write what's called a successful play,
that usually means that enough members of the audience say,
"At last, somebody is saying exactly what I'm thinking and feeling.
"I am not mad, I'm not alone in feeling this."
When I write an unsuccessful play, it's usually because
I've said something about what I feel, and nobody else recognises it.
Now, these feelings of self-hatred, which have...
which drove my life for many years
and particularly during the period of the book,
I believe are common to many people.
If people don't recognise self-hatred
or know anything about it,
then they'll just say, "Is this man a lunatic?
"What IS this experience?"
But I've had enough responses to the book
to know that an awful lot of people are not strangers to self-hatred.
I mean, I think that the process
of becoming a playwright did involve, erm...
toughening myself up in ways which were often quite ruthless.
I was born into a generation that followed Dennis Potter
and David Mercer and Harold Pinter and John Osborne.
They were all ornery, difficult people,
because playwriting does involve
a great deal of public humiliation.
And I think that in the 1970s,
when the country was arguing about everything, and the culture
was arguing about everything, they were trying to throttle us at birth.
We had enemies.
And that, to me... And the book is partly a defence of the 1970s,
and saying disputatious times can also be very creative times.
And the things that the culture was arguing about and the things
that the country were arguing about were very, very important things.
Bernard Levin wasn't a critic, he was an enemy. He wanted...
He famously wrote, "I wish David Hare would just go away."
And so that's what we were facing, and if that made us
ornery in response to that, who'd be surprised?
Were you a poet or were you a novelist,
there might well be humiliations in sales figures,
but nobody ever really knows, or is aware of them,
whereas if someone's play comes off after three days,
or it's booed, or there's no-one in the audience...
I mean, Simon Gray, the late Simon Gray wrote about ringing up
the theatre and asking if they had any tickets for tonight
and they said, "Yes, you can have any seat you want."
I mean, those kind of things don't happen to novelists or poets.
Yeah. I mean, there was a wonderful incident
at the Nottingham Playhouse,
when Brassneck was on, where we were told that the woman who ran
the box office, when people rang and asked for tickets for Brassneck,
which was a play by me and Howard Brenton, that she told them,
"Oh, you don't want to come to that."
So, we did indeed try this out.
Howard and I rang the box office, and we did get this response.
She said, "Are you sure you want a ticket for this?
"It's not very good, you know."
I argued to Richard Eyre, who was running
the Nottingham Playhouse, that he had to sack the box office manager.
I said, "If you have a box office manager
"who tells people not to come..."
And Richard, perfectly plausibly, said,
"Well, you may regard it as just quality control,
"and maybe the audience is grateful to her!"
He refused to sack her.
You say you have always had too easy access to anger.
There's a very funny...
not funny for you, but funny for the reader, moment where,
on one of your early plays, you sacked the director, in effect,
and taken over but, for appearances, he's allowed to still be
in the rehearsal room, and then you fall out terribly with
the producer of the play, and you say you had to go through rehearsals
without catching the eye of either the producer or the director.
And on other occasions... You took on
Frank Rich, the critic of the New York Times, you took him on publicly,
so some of it is self-inflicted.
No, I don't agree. I think that what I say,
in the actual quote in the book, I know, is that
I have too easy an access to anger but not always on my own behalf,
as much on other people's behalf as on my own.
And I've spent an awful lot of time fighting causes
on other people's behalf, as much as on my own.
I don't think of my anger as a product of self-pity.
I think of my anger as an openness to power being abused.
That's what I can't stand.
And that's what makes me angry on other people's behalf.
There's a startling moment in the memoir, to me...
In fact, you are working on one of the early plays of Chekhov, and you
discover a Russian word in Chekhov that translates as "fatherlessness",
and that resonates through the book, as you must know,
because that is what YOU felt.
Well, of course, my father was away for most of the year.
He was a sailor.
So, 11 months of the year, he just wasn't there?
And for the month that he was there,
he was strangely indifferent to his children! To my sister and me.
So, you know, I've read people...
psychologists who claim that fatherlessness is the classic
condition of people who become writers.
It certainly is wounding.
You know, I was brought up by women and I missed a father,
but worse than missing a father, I was really
hurt by the fact that he had no interest in me or my sister.
But in the rhythm of that year, when you were growing up,
I mean, the word "plenty", which you use, memorably, for a title,
but it's, again, a startling thing that you would have
this 1950s South Coast life, which was fairly modest,
and then he would descend with a great roll of banknotes,
and there would be all these treats.
A great roll of banknotes, and there would be steak suddenly,
we'd go to the Star Cafe in Hastings to have steak, and then he'd
tell us about how he'd seen Kay Starr or Lena Horne in cabaret
in Aden or...
He'd been to Fremantle, and he also had stuff,
presumably stuff that had come out of the larder.
He'd have a whole lamb from New Zealand that he'd brought home,
or pineapple from the Pacific, and he just poured
abundance into our lives and then disappeared again.
Your mother has a very striking line of dialogue in the book.
She would often say, "I love you but I don't like you."
Now, how do you unpick that line?
-How do I unpick it?
She didn't think I was very nice, I think.
Wow. I mean, is this...
As I say, you are incredibly frank about all this in the book,
and hard on yourself, but you realised that at the time, did you?
I think that I was very, very uncomfortable
because I could not understand...
You know, children have a highly-developed radar,
meaning that they have the same radar as we do,
in terms of looking around and trying to interpret
what's around them, but they lack the means to interpret it,
because they lack the models with which to interpret it.
I've met a lot of, say, angry men in my life,
so when a man gets angry, I go, "Oh, this is like such and such."
But as a child, you're encountering all that for the first time,
and I was trying to interpret some very strange behaviour around me,
both in the town that I lived in and in the family that I was born into.
There's also a class translation...
A lot of writers in the past, they would be lifted
from working class to middle or upper by going to university.
Now, it happened earlier for you
because you got a scholarship to Lancing,
so in those terrible English distinctions,
-the Hares were lower middle class?
But then you went to a posh school and that, clearly, has been
-crucial to your plays and, I assume, to you?
In other words, I went to Lancing
and I learned to speak the way I now speak, because my accent was not...
How would you have sounded before Lancing?
Well, as I say, I think, in a way,
that in Bexhill was quite highfalutin,
but which did not pass in Lancing.
My vowels needed to be cleared up
and I needed to acquire some consonants,
which I acquired as camouflage.
Was there a sort of financial apartheid, racism?
-Were people aware of who was scholarship boy?
And I was aware that I was there on a scholarship,
and that I had much less money than most of the boys there.
Most of the boys had tuckboxes crammed with food that was
regularly arriving, to compensate for the appalling diet
that was offered at Lancing in those days.
Journalists, biographers, interviewers
are always looking for key formative moments.
Age of nine, you are taken to Glyndebourne,
curiously enough the setting for your forthcoming play,
The Moderate Soprano, which is about the history of that opera house.
Opera wasn't on when you went at the age of nine,
there was drama on, but it does seem to me that was a significant moment.
Yeah. My mother took me to Glyndebourne for the amateur acting.
Actually, when I was researching the play about Glyndebourne, I was
able to identify when exactly I had gone, and to what I had been,
though the play, maybe your viewers will know what the play is,
it's a play about Shakespeare being caught in a trunk.
I thought it was by Bernard Shaw, but I don't think it was.
But there's absolutely no doubt that,
although it was a flop, it captured my imagination in some way,
and I thought, "God, that would be immense fun,
"to write for the theatre."
And then, later on, when you're 13, you're on a trip in London
and you go in to see The Caretaker by Harold Pinter,
who would subsequently become your friend. Again, that instinct,
because you don't gloss it at all in the book, that instinct to
go in and see that play, there was something about theatre, even then.
Yes. Very, very young and I was given by my mother,
which I say in the book,
an extraordinary degree of independence.
In other words, I got the train to London by myself,
at the age of 13, wandered the streets of London alone at 13,
went in to see this play called The Caretaker, sat in the balcony,
up goes the curtain and there is, standing,
Alan Bates, and he is wearing - I can see it now -
he's wearing leather jackets and he's wearing jeans.
And he just was the most alluring, exciting..
..riveting young man, of a kind I'd never seen in Bexhill.
And you were just instantly into a sort of sensuality
and sharpness and danger that your own life lacked, and off I went.
So, both your parents, in their different ways,
were quite inattentive to you.
I mean, your mother was happy for you to go off, and your dad wasn't there.
I think my mother was determined that,
although she feared for me,
she would nevertheless allow me the freedom,
the maximum possible freedom,
and that, I think, is the greatest gift she gave me.
Cambridge you didn't, in general, enjoy.
I mean, it was not a happy experience.
Well, except I learned to direct.
Or rather, I had my first experience of directing a play.
It's something that I encourage everybody to experiment
when they're young,
because you may discover a gift in yourself that you don't know.
My life has been the discovery of only three gifts,
but each one of them, I had no sense that I could do it until I did it.
Directing plays was the first one.
I had no intimation that I was going to be able to write,
and I didn't do that for some years,
and then directing film was something
I turned out to be able to do but, again, I had no sense of it.
People talk about the privilege of Cambridge.
You had the expected one of Alfred Hitchcock coming to
talk to you, which you say a few times in the book,
that if you...at that stage, if you ask for stuff,
you sometimes got it because they were surprised,
-but he just turned up?
I was running the film society.
Dick Arnold was the president of the film society, I was the secretary.
We had the wheeze of asking Hitchcock
and, much to our amazement, he came,
and I would say, retrospectively,
he was the first great artist with whom
I got to spend any length of time,
and because he turned up at one o'clock and wanted lunch,
and he didn't have to speak till five or five-thirty,
I can't remember,
then four or five of us had the privilege of spending
four hours with him, while he talked freely about the films he had made.
And, so, that, you can imagine,
for a schoolboy, it was just incredible - sorry, a student,
It was it was just incredible to be alone with Alfred Hitchcock,
and this fount of sort of anecdote
and self-deprecation and charm, really.
-Was he anecdotal at a technical level?
And as he said,
the fact that he spent however many hours talking to this young
Frenchman called Francois Truffaut, as he said,
"This man Truffaut," he kept saying, you know,
he had his thoughts in an extraordinary orderly way,
because he had been made to think about...
But he was an orderly man anyway.
And, you know, certain anecdotes were extremely polished
but some were off the record.
If you asked him the question, he'd...he'd answer frankly.
Although you haven't acted professionally,
apart from a monologue - at Cambridge, you did have
an outing as an actor, playing one of two tall identical twins.
I had a physical similarity to Richard Cork,
who later became the art critic of the Times,
and so inspired director Steve Gooch decided to do Comedy Of Errors
and put us in as the two Antipholuses, Syracuse and Ephesus,
and I'm afraid, for the record, I can't remember which one I played.
Although, amazingly, film survives,
because Stephen Wright, who was one of the Dromios,
he shot some film and then discovered it many years later.
It's a very rare opportunity to be able to see your young self,
and I was quite shocked at how we all have
what I call the physical lexicon of Monty Python.
In other words, as young men, we were as clumsy, gauche,
awkward, embarrassed, shy...
..messing around all the time,
larking about in a way which seems incredibly self-conscious
and incredibly uneasy.
For the first time in this long series, I always wanted to,
I am going to produce a cricket manual here and the reason is
that in the records for the county of Essex, here it is,
"The highest partnership for each wicket, the ninth wicket,
"251, JWHT Douglas and, more importantly,
"SM Hare versus Derbyshire Leyton, 1921."
Now, when you look at all the others,
most of the other records are 1994, 2010, they've all been superseded,
-but that is your uncle.
-That is my uncle Eric. Yeah.
I mean, you can see what it means to me.
It must be rather a wonderful thing,
to have not just Playfair but Wisden, which is the bigger one.
-He's in there, as well.
-Oh, he is in Wisden.
Let's not make any mistake about that.
No, but everybody who played cricket at St Paul's, where he was,
because he was born in 1900,
each year, the first XI played,
and each year, three or four of that first XI would die in the trenches,
so my uncle told me that in 1918,
when he played in the first XI,
he expected to go off and be killed, and he said, "You simply accepted
"the fact that the chances were
"that you were playing cricket that summer,
"and there was a high chance that you would be dead within the year."
But because it was '18,
by November there was an amnesty and so he was spared,
and I said to him, "How did people accept that?"
And he said, "Even now, I can't explain it to you.
"I can only tell you that was the mind-set, and nobody that I knew..."
and he was talking about
a conventional middle-class background,
"..dissented from it."
And he said, "I can't explain to you how that was."
And I find it unimaginable how young men accepted that
that they were going to go and be killed.
Another slight mystery, a more trivial one,
but it has always fascinated me is English playwrights and cricket,
because Harold Pinter had his own cricket team, I think
it still exists to this day,
Tom Stoppard would keep wicket.
They say, in journalism, you need three for a trend,
and it's way beyond these here.
Simon Gray loved cricket, Ronald Harwood loves cricket,
You do. It goes on and on. There are various theories.
Some people have said that a five-day test match,
five-day dramatic structure in Shakespeare.
I don't know. It's a mild obsession of mine.
I think it's to do... It's the rhythms.
Proper cricket is so long, there are sub plots,
there are incredible switches...
That's a very good theory.
I think it's democratic, also.
I think that, you know, the fact
that whatever social background you can come from...
By and large, football is a working-class game,
but the toffs play cricket in one way, the middle class play it
in another, and then, what used to be called the players...
Famously, at Lord's,
gentlemen and players came in through different gates onto the pitch.
That's right. And so there's that element
and also, there's the element that anybody at any point can shine,
so the number 11 batsman may suddenly be
the star of the day, because he holds out to the end
and gets the draw under impossible circumstances,
and that, clearly, is the same with the theatre.
It has to be collaborative with theatre.
The assistant stage manager is just as important as the director,
and at a crucial moment will save the play from disaster.
The person playing the maid will come in and save the evening
when something is wrong.
And I think that sense of collaboration,
where you do know that you're part of something bigger than yourself,
that's what a play is. And so a cricket game is that as well.
Now, that's fascinating, because you have directed many plays
-but it's the same thing, isn't it, that within a team structure...
..you have to accommodate superstars?
So, you don't have to name them,
but in the theatre, there must be Kevin Pietersens, Geoffrey Boycotts
-and so on, and yet the director has to fit them into the team.
But it's more than that.
I think that there is a genuine difference in the leading actor
to the other actors, and there is generally
a level of neurosis that is greater than it is for the other actors
because of the sense, both of who they are in relation
to their past and what the public knows them to be,
and to the amount of responsibility that they
are carrying in the play, and if, like me, you love leading parts,
and I've written more leading parts than most contemporary playwrights.
In other words, I've written for stars, what are called stars -
to do their star thing in them, because I absolutely love that,
but the test of a director is the ability to direct stars,
because it is a different thing from directing actors.
By stars, I don't mean very famous people, I mean people who take on
massive stage roles,
and the struggle that goes with playing a big stage role.
I was one of the people lucky enough to have seen Anthony Hopkins
in Pravda, written with Howard Brenton,
directed by you at the National Theatre.
To see Anthony Hopkins playing Lambert Le Roux,
the South African newspaper tycoon in that,
it's on a different level to anything that anyone else can do.
-They go into a zone where somehow something else is happening.
I think it's a major criticism of the National Theatre,
that it has to be where those great actors give those performances,
and yet, truthfully,
Mark Rylance in Jerusalem excites an audience
in a way nothing else excites them, you know.
People remember for ever,
"I saw Mark Rylance play..." What is he called?
-Rooster, I think.
-Yeah, in Jez Butterworth's...
And it burns into them in a very profound way,
and the fact that the National Theatre is not, these days,
so much organised around the principle
that it's there for the greatest actors of the day,
to give the great performances, I think is a shame.
When Laurence Olivier ran it, it was obviously too much that way.
In other words,
it was ONLY about what could Laurence Olivier do,
or what could Maggie Smith do or what could Tony Hopkins do,
but on the other hand, it's got to be the place
where these great performances are given.
Truth? Why, when every way you go, people tell lies in pubs,
to each other, to their husbands, to their wives,
to their children, to the dying!
And thank God they do!
No-one tells the truth!
Although another example,
which might be relevant here in a different way,
is The Blue Room, which you adapted from La Ronde, by Schnitzler,
and Nicole Kidman gave
a still-talked-about performance in that,
but that's something else that happens in theatre now.
I mean, with respect to the text,
it isn't a huge role in the way that Lambert Le Roux is.
It was about people seeing HER, wasn't it?
Nicole Kidman is in front of you, on stage.
Yeah. I mean, it was a sandstorm of publicity,
and it clearly got completely out of control,
to a point where, in New York,
it was occasionally quite frightening,
the sheer number of thousands of people in the street waiting
for her to come out of the stage door,
and both Sam Mendes and I felt that this rather fragile, sweet,
nice play was, you know,
at the centre of something where it was impossible to see
the play any longer, because of what it was. However, the crucial point
about Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room was that she was bloody good in it.
She was really good,
And she was giving what you would call a star performance,
meaning you could not take your eyes off her.
She was completely fascinating in the role.
And so that... I do dislike it when I get blamed
because of The Blue Room, for, you know, celebrities in theatre.
There have been celebrities in the theatre for ever,
meaning, when I was young, they were just boring celebrities.
In other words, they were Claudette Colbert
and Charlton Heston doing seasons at the Haymarket
of boring old plays by Frederick Lonsdale.
the first professional David Hare play was staged -
Inside Out, adapted from Kafka's Diaries.
Produced by Portable Theatre, a company that you co-founded.
Now, as you know, a lot of writers in their memoirs,
they will say, "I knew from when I first wrote that school play
"at the age of four, I knew I was going to be a dramatist."
You're rather different. You were an accidental dramatist.
I was surrounded by people who have a very powerful vocational sense.
Howard Brenton was the principal Portable Theatre writer,
Snoo Wilson was another one who absolutely knew
he wanted to be a writer. I was directing Trevor Griffiths,
who had a powerful vocational sense,
and my friend Christopher Hampton had had a play performed
-in the West End at the age of 21.
-Who had been at Lancing with you.
Yeah, he had been at Lancing with me. And so, you know,
I seemed to be surrounded by people who knew they were writers.
I didn't know I was a writer
until Snoo failed to deliver a play on a Wednesday,
and we had to have something to rehearse the following Monday,
so, in four days, I wrote an hour-long satire,
which was absolutely terrible but when the actors
looked at the dialogue and they saw the page in front of them,
I could see them go, "Oh, I think I can probably say this."
And so, out of that, I acquired an agent,
and the agent sent the one-hour play to Michael Codron,
who was the West End leading producer who had discovered
Harold Pinter and discovered Joe Orton and discovered Alan Ayckbourn.
He was now telling me -
I was 23, I had written one hour of material -
he was telling me
that I was the next one in this line.
I was completely taken aback. I had no expectation or sense of this.
And so, it was really by chance that it came about.
Slag, which went on at 1970 in Hampstead,
one of the few plays of yours I haven't seen,
because it hasn't been revived, at least to my awareness.
It's regarded as the official start of your career.
Where it connects with the later work
is that you took a prevailing ideology, in that case feminism,
and you explored it, but in a farcical, a satirical way.
Yeah. It's a satire. I was originally a satirist.
My first agent was Clive Goodwin,
who was running a revolutionary newspaper called the Black Dwarf,
and he said, "You're a satirist
"and you should write funny plays,
"because that's what you are good at. Your jokes are good."
And I started writing satire, so that's what my early plays were,
and Slag was a satire on feminist separatism.
Not on feminism.
And do people ask to revive it?
And you say no?
Look, I think it took me a long time to write a good play...
Where do you date it from?
The book is about the point at which I wrote Licking Hitler,
which I think is a really good film,
and Plenty, which I think is a really good play.
And when people say to me, which they do,
"No, but you haven't written a better play than Plenty since,"
my reply is, "No, but nor has anyone else."
-You don't see it as a decline after Plenty?
-No, not in the slightest,
but what happened was that my whole life fell to bits after Plenty.
First of all, my first marriage ends.
Secondly, I finally write a play which I think is a good play,
which is Plenty, and it wasn't terribly well-received
when it first came out, and it was only really
when it was performed in America, in New York, at Joe Papp's theatre,
that it became accepted in the way it is now.
In fact, we should explain for people who don't remember
or haven't read the book,
Plenty, when it was first on - National Theatre, 1978 -
was so unsuccessful that the chair of the board of the National Theatre
told Peter Hall, the artistic director, to take it off,
-and he refused.
-Yeah. Peter Hall made a point,
which I wish I saw more sign of in the subsidised theatre today.
In other words, he said, "Yes,
"we will take off work which we don't believe to be good,
"but we will keep on work which we do believe to be good,
"however few people are coming to see it, because
"if we don't do that, we might as well BE the commercial theatre.
"There simply is no difference between us
"and the commercial theatre."
And I don't see much evidence of theatres going out on a limb now
on behalf of writers
in the way that Peter Hall went out on a limb for me.
He put me on on Friday and Saturday nights,
so that they were the best nights of the week for audiences,
he kept me in the repertory for eight months
and by the end of eight months,
the theatre was full and play was playing to standing ovations.
But that was entirely because Peter Hall understood
what subsidised theatre was for,
which is to lead taste, not to follow it.
But also, this has happened to you on an unusual number of occasions,
that the revival of a play has been much better received than
the origination, whereas, in fact,
for a lot of writers, it is that other way round.
It is notoriously the other way round.
I think Charles Rosen,
the pianist whom I quote,
when I discovered this quote,
it was solace to me, which is, he said,
"From our artists we expect originality,
"and then we complain when we get it."
And I do believe that...
Peggy Ramsay, my agent, and the greatest theatre agent
of our time, always says, "The new is very ugly."
And she said, Waiting For Godot, when it first came out,
one's first response to it was, "My God, that play is ugly."
The Birthday Party, "That play is ugly."
And if you give people something that is genuinely new,
their first response is to be shocked at the ugliness.
In the memoir, you say about your plays,
"Longing has always been my subject,"
and that took me aback, because I wouldn't have thought of that word
to unite your work. But why "longing"?
The plays are romantic, essentially. And I think that I write best
when I'm able to release that feeling of romantic...
self-romance about the things that you do
and the people you connect to.
Although... Probably your most celebrated heroine, Susan Traherne
in Plenty, played by Kate Nelligan originally, Meryl Streep on the film,
that's more about belonging, isn't it?
No, but that's romantic also, about the feelings that she,
during the war, was with the finest group of people...
That her great fortune has to be among noble, dedicated people
who were tested to the limits and triumphantly came through,
and that she will, you know... The first half of the play,
which is essentially a celebration of the courage of her peers
and the people who she worked with behind the lines in France,
the second half is how her attachment to that memory
prevents her from moving on after the war.
-So, it's a longing for the past? I see. Yeah.
-It's a longing for value.
And value is what I write about -
the difference between people who are able to find
comfort in value, and people who can't find any value in their lives.
I think of France more than I can tell you.
I often think of it.
-People I met for only an hour or two. Great kindnesses.
The fact that you could meet someone for an hour or two,
see the very best of them.
And then move on.
We talked about Slag, three characters,
all women, the central female character in Plenty,
the central female character in...
yeah, in Licking Hitler, again played by Kate Nelligan,
Amy's View, two main female characters.
It is something you talked about earlier,
about being brought up by women,
it is something that you have done to an unusual degree for a male writer,
-writing about women.
I mean, I enjoy writing for women because...
First of all, I like the active imagination,
so, in other words, to me, writing is only interesting
when you're imagining something not yourself.
Women, obviously, because I'm not.
But also, because I have a particular view of women,
which is to do with how I was brought up.
Although, this is interesting, because, as you know,
the common libel of critics is that often, in your plays,
there has been a - Bernard Levin used to say this -
a David-Hare-type character, often played by Bill Nighy,
who was seen to represent your views, your personality, everything, really.
Yeah. I think that may be...
It may be true of The Worricker Trilogy that, obviously...
But by that point,
I think that Bill and I had merged in the public imagination...
to a point.
He has played, after all, ten times in my work,
and I do find him a wonderfully adaptable and fluent actor,
who can portray exactly what I'm talking about.
The search for value and romantic longing are two things
that Bill plays better than anybody.
London's desperate. They want you back.
They're insisting. They want you badly.
You made a promise. You promised me.
Johnny, you know how it works.
One day, I am going to need a favour from MI5.
-I bet you will.
-I'm going to need it.
You think I'll get my favour if I let you go?
Johnny, you know what happens to whistle-blowers.
They turn into lonely old men with bad breath...
-I'm going to go.
-You don't have a chance at the airport.
-I know that.
-They're waiting for you.
-I'll meet you at Chico's.
Buy me a whisky. I'll be there in half an hour.
And this time I'll drink.
But I have to say one goodbye.
He goes where you go.
I know it's incredibly annoying when people read autobiography,
particularly when you've said you weren't an autobiographical writer,
I watched Dreams Of Leaving,
your 1980 play in which Bill Nighy plays this rather disaffected
writer or journalist who falls in love with a character
played by Kate Nelligan, and then in your memoirs, you reveal that
you yourself had fallen in love with Kate Nelligan during this period,
so, subconsciously, now, all that was coming out, wasn't it?
Yes, I think that was more the subconscious.
I think that's an exception.
In other words, it was the end of my marriage
and I'd written a play called Dreams Of Leaving - hello(!) -
so, you know, clearly, that was an autobiographical one.
You must forgive me.
I came to tell you.
I don't want to see you.
I think we should stop.
I don't know what role I'm meant to be serving.
You don't use me.
You just want me there.
If only you could make some movement towards me.
I crave it...
A word I might have chosen rather than "longing"
to unite the work is "lying",
because there's an astonishing speech...
I still remember first seeing this and I watched it again the other day,
Licking Hitler, at the end, in the voiceover,
where the Kate Nelligan character talks about the lying.
-Lying is a big theme for you.
-National, public, private, all of it.
Well, I mean, for goodness' sake.
I mean, if you were going to characterise public policy in the
last 50 years, there has been a fair amount of lying to us, hasn't there?
Over the years, I have been watching the steady
impoverishment of people's ideals, their loss of faith, the lying,
the daily inveterate lying,
the 30-year-old deep, corrosive national habit of lying.
And I have remembered you.
I have remembered the one lie you told...
to make me go away.
And I now, at last, have come to understand why you told it.
I loved you then, and I love you now.
That speech about lying, though, that was...
One of the reasons that, I think, there was
hostility towards Licking Hitler, was the idea that you were
moralistic and judgmental, that you were judging the audience.
From very early on, certain critics thought you were lecturing them.
I can do very little about that.
In other words, the work is the child of the man.
I don't think the plays are moralistic,
but there is no doubt that they did get up the audience's nose,
and that must be a quality in me over which I can do very little.
I'm not, as I say in the book,
a very judgmental person about people's behaviour.
Indeed, I think I judge people less than most people.
I'm rather sympathetic to people who fall from grace,
because I can see how easily it would happen to me.
Racing Demon, your play about the Church of England, has fascinated me.
Although you are a non-believer,
it's a deeply sympathetic play about priests and the Church of England.
Well, it's hugely to Richard Eyre's credit.
Richard Eyre was running the National Theatre, and when I went
to him and said, "I want to write a play about the Church of England."
He at once saw what I was about, and I said,
"It's not going to be about vicars and it's not going to be a satire
"and it's not going to set off to just say how ridiculous they are,
"nor is it going to be a lament for the decline of religion.
"It's going to be about the fact
"that these people have become social workers,
"and that they are trying to hold communities together
"that are being mashed by terrible historical forces,"
and Richard, the minute I said it, was on to it
and said, "That's a brilliant idea.
"Do vicars seriously and take them seriously."
And that's what I did.
There are an awful lot of people round here in a very bad way
and they need something besides silence...
That was part of what became known as The Hare Trilogy.
Racing Demon - Church of England, Murmuring Judges - the judiciary,
and The Absence Of War - Westminster and politics.
And you wrote a book called Asking Around,
-which was about the research for that.
Richard Eyre, again, was responsible for giving me the chance...
Before the play came out,
he said to me, "This thing of researching a subject
"and then going completely free
"and doing it as fiction is very, very rich,
"because, hitherto, they've either been documentary plays
"or they've been plays that are pure fiction.
"But this thing of researching it first
"and then go flying free is new, and you should do three like this."
And I said, "The only conditions I'll do three
"is if they are all eventually presented in one day,
"three together." And he let me do that.
And there was a lot of lobbying about what the subjects
of these three plays would be,
but I made my own mind up about that
and refused suggestions.
-Presumably people saying NHS, BBC and so on, all of those?
But I think that, even then, I was beginning to sense
that there could be no more plays that said - 1940s wonderful,
everything now terrible.
And plays that work to that template are boring.
It's been done so many times.
And that was a plan I was trying to resist in that
trilogy of plays, already, by 1993.
Listen, next time you're tempted to be serious,
when you look at a judge, under the robes, under the language,
under the gravity, please remember
he's made a style choice for which any adult male
except Danny La Rue would be instantly arrested.
And is that why a man with an Irish accent gets such a bad deal?
After The Hare Trilogy, there is, in various ways,
different ways of putting facts on stage.
for the first time, they have the names Blair and Bush,
they're saying some things that we know they said,
some things you think they said.
The Permanent Way, a verbatim play about railway privatisation,
based on interviews, and Via Dolorosa,
which is a monologue you delivered yourself,
so the plays are all, in that sense, getting more directly factual.
I don't think so.
In other words, more that I think I wanted to experiment with form.
The one-person monologue is now a sort of...
It's the leylandii of the British theatre, it's absolutely everywhere,
but when I did Via Dolorosa,
it was not a form many people were working in, particularly
the serious monologue that is about your own personal reaction.
Stuff Happens was a very original form.
Permanent Way, very original, and Power Of Yes,
you could say was the most experimental of the lot.
I've just felt more and more... discontent maybe with conventional
theatrical form and wanted to play with it more as the years went by.
There are many playwrights who would run
screaming at the idea of delivering on stage night after night
a monologue they'd written but, again, you backed yourself to do it.
I think that it's just the job to stay adventurous,
and this was more or less, "I can't act, I'm not an actor,"
but I thought that Stephen Daldry could teach me to perform,
and so it just seemed an adventurous and exciting thing to do.
And Via Dolorosa, actually,
is one of the most successful things I ever did.
I mean, I did it 200 times.
People have done it everywhere.
And it always appeals to people.
And it's always the daring of it that I think people like.
I had no sense of how I did it
because I am completely without any kind of external
monitor of any kind.
The only thing that people said to me
was that there was something rather moving
when I was totally terrified.
In other words, when I came out in the first performances
in the West End, originally,
I looked so terrified that the audience rushed towards me,
-as if to protect me.
-You were actually shaking.
-I was shaking.
I was shaking with terror.
And there was a way in which, as I became more proficient,
I became a great deal less moving.
I always loved Simon Callow's description of my performance,
which I always thought was best,
where he said, "He went out, unprotected by technique."
On the way in, I'd been advised not to let them stamp my passport,
so that I can visit Arab countries.
But on the way out, before I can say anything, wham!
Not a second to speak,
and the word "Israel" is on my passport for ever.
You've mentioned already a couple of things in the book that
people who don't write or they simply will regard them
as bizarre, here's another one that you stated very, very boldly.
"If anything has been my salvation as a human being, it is
"this choice of an activity which is, at the deepest level,
"out of my hands,"
and then you go on to say elsewhere, the basic question -
why is the play the way it is? - "I have no answer at all,"
and then, elsewhere, "The play was writing itself."
Well, that's the mystery of style, isn't it?
So that, you know, an actor will ask me,
"Why do I have to say this line like this?
"Why do the words...
"Why do they have to be the exact words?"
I go crazy if actors paraphrase.
Why? They say, "Surely it's just the same if I paraphrase the line?"
Now, the reply is, "No, it's not the same."
"Why is it not the same?"
The answer is, the music, the rhythm, the style is,
it looks wrong,
Just as Francis Bacon would say,
"It looks wrong if there's vermillion in the corner
"rather than brown."
He can't explain why it looks right, but that is the mystery of art.
And art comes from the subconscious, not from the conscious,
so that you can't will yourself, you can only say,
"I don't know why, but this line sort of sounds right now,
"whereas it didn't sound right before."
Afterwards, you can rationalise and say,
"Oh, yes, I can see what I'm doing,"
and you slowly begin to understand what it was you were doing,
but the doing of it is not something over which you
exercise conscious control.
-If writing comes from the subconscious,
the choice of subject matter,
the choice to write about a black propaganda unit
in Britain during the Second World War in Licking Hitler,
the choice to write about the Church of England in Racing Demon,
those are conscious choices, clearly.
Well, there's something...
I can't explain why certain subjects are,
just as a photographer would say, photogenic,
and so there are certain subjects
that seem to me immediately drama-genic.
I don't always know why.
I just know this really, really interests me and moves me.
And the Church of England,
immediately that I went to the Synod in York and saw all these
priests together, pretending that they were part of a parliament,
I was intensely moved by it,
and you start writing from that feeling,
and if you don't have that feeling of being moved
by the subject matter, then you are unlikely to succeed, I think.
But also, the question of why you write about a certain subject
at a certain time, many playwrights might have written
South Downs at the start of their career,
the play about their school days, whereas you did it relatively late,
but that would be a product of personality and psychology.
I think exactly that.
I think I'm beginning to understand things about myself through
this process, that probably I haven't understood for many years.
But I think that I had to fight so hard...
In other words, because I'd always struggled against a background,
as you say, plays not being understood when I first wrote them.
You know, late in my life I wrote The Judas Kiss,
the play about Oscar Wilde, which was really not understood at all,
perhaps because of the production, perhaps because of the timing,
but now, you know,
when it was recently revived with Rupert Everett,
is now accepted and understood, that has been
so much my experience in the theatre that it has made me defensive.
I've had to be defensive
because I have had to fight on behalf of my place.
Maybe that hasn't given me time to relax into self-examination,
which maybe I'm doing now.
There's a lot of self-analysis in the plays and in the memoir and,
indeed, in this interview.
-Have you ever submitted to professional analysis?
That's policy, clearly, by your age.
Well, it's superstition, isn't it?
Investigating the origins of creativity is of absolutely
no interest to me.
I'm just a man rubbing sticks round a fire,
hoping that the fire is going to catch light,
and I really don't want to know why it catches light.
I think that writing the book has made me understand...
I had always assumed that anger was the motivating force in my life,
and I think that bewilderment...
I now feel that bewilderment is IT,
meaning I cannot understand why other people do not feel as I do.
Let me explain to you why I feel like this,
and let me see if you feel like this as well.
There are many cases in England of very successful dramatists,
it's unfair to name them, who had decades at the end
of their careers without getting work on.
Have you ever feared that fate, and how have you avoided it?
I think I did panic, yeah.
I think I panicked at the end of my marriage, in 1979,
and when the world turned in a direction I was not expecting.
In other words, nobody had foresaw that workers would
lose their rights, the markets would kick up and find new vitality
and that by tearing up the rights of workers,
capitalism could renew itself from within,
and when it happened, I was lost, you know.
It was not what I was expecting.
And so, I didn't know how to write for some years.
And then, when I sat down with Howard Brenton to write Pravda,
a series of conversations with Howard freed me up
and liberated me, and I will always be grateful to him for that.
You say in the memoir,
"Although I've spent much of my time depressed,
"i.e. dissatisfied with myself,
"I've also never been bored, i.e. dissatisfied with the world."
The book ends on...
I mean, you whizz through the latter part of your life quite quickly,
and it ends on an apparently happy note, married to Nicole Farhi,
good relations with your three children,
but do you remain dissatisfied with yourself
but excited with the world?
I'm never bored, meaning that I always think that if there is
a problem, it tends to be with myself and with my own temperament,
and the world itself still seems to me incredibly exciting and
interesting, and places which I hitherto thought incredibly dull...
Bexhill is still marginal, but I now go to Eastbourne,
which was the town I despised most in the world, and now I look at it
and I think it is so ravishingly beautiful,
when you see that sunlight coming down on the cliffs at Eastbourne.
So the place that I thought I had spent my life
getting away from, in fact, is the place that I just now find
and so I can't now imagine a place I would not be interested in.
-David Hare, thank you.