Though being a stage play devotee I had come across David Hare’s name as a highly acclaimed British playwright of our time long before, it was not until I listened to a Hard Talk interview of him on BBC in 2010, perhaps conducted by Tim Sebastian, that I was incentivised to explore online for more information on his literary works. In Bangladesh, as we all know, it is not easy to find the latest foreign publications as one desires or requires.
As implied, watching the Hard Talk interview was a thoroughly refreshing experience for me especially because of his candid assertions and liberal standpoints on contemporary political events – about Iraq war in particular. My online surfing strongly endorsed the impression that I’d already acquired listening to his interview, and a ready example can be found in his comments that he made to The Sunday Telegraph once, “I wanted a social democratic government, and I thought Blair was the best prime minister for 50 years.”
After a few years, in 2008, The Telegraph again in an article titled “Sir David Hare: This knight is haunted by a sense of betrayal,” the writer of the article William Langley phrased the playwright’s disillusionment like this, “He [David Hare] spent years raging against the dying of the Left, then thought he’d found a savior in Tony Blair. His new play shows what happens when the messiah turns out to be a Judas.”
I could also get hold of two very significant quotes (undated) of David Hare on politics, politicians and creative writers at the time of my web surfing and find them very relevant contextually. The first reads, “What politicians want and what creative writers want will always be profoundly different, because I’m afraid all politicians, of whatever hue, want propaganda, and writers want the truth, and they’re not compatible.” This reminds me of my reading and translation of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ in which the duke of Gloucester, after his eyes were gouged out, was advised by Lear to get two glass-eyes fixed like the politicians (they have natural glass-eyes that never show the reality) because those glass-eyes would make him see things like politicians who could easily see what the common people never could (all-out development of the country). And the second, which happens to be the prompt of my title for the present article, “The most important playwright’s gift is to hit your time and speak to your time.”
Bill Nighy and Julian Moore in ‘The Vertical Hout’
In fact, David Hare is a truth-finder and in no way a propagandist, and at the same time a creative writer who hits his time and speaks to his time as well. This I came to know when I read his two plays in 2011, Stuff Happens (2004) and The Vertical Hour (2006), both of which were themed on the Iraq War – the first on pre-war political hullabaloo and viciousness of the two big powers, USA and UK, and the second on its aftermath.
Immediately after the Hard Talk experience, I happened to be on a trip to the USA and wasted no time in buying three plays by David Hare out of which my perfect and of course very thoughtful selection was The Vertical Hour. The reason was, the playwright uniquely presented his honest ideas and arguments on the aftermaths of the Iraq War and also what the British people thought about it. Upon reading the play, I was soon tempted to render it into Bangla, especially to show our readers and drama lovers how politically significant a British playwright could be regarding a very heated and divided issue of our time. Though I am biased towards verbatim translation of plays and opposed to their adaptations, for a particular reason, I, for the first time, opted for transformation of the play into a Bangladeshi framework. The reason was, as far as the Iraq War was concerned, opinions of both the British and the Bangladeshi people were, and still are the same. It was a war fought for nothing causing death to thousands of people and giving birth to many more unforeseen political and humanitarian crises! My task of adaptation thus became easy.
But that is not the lone reason for my being fascinated with the plot of the play. Other reasons are the underlying interplay of some never-ending issues like Freud, Oedipus, atheism, dialectical and historical materialism of Karl Marx, real life anecdotes, free and frank discourses on age-long clash between capitalism and communism, ethnic cleansing in East Europe and Arab countries, local/home made and global terrorism, hypocritical modernism, journalistic ethics and most of all, human fragility and frailty vis-a-vis enigma of love. All of these materials have taken the play to a mystic and meaningful height. Though my adapted play titled ‘Prolombito Prohor’ in Bangla could not have more than three stage performances so far, I still feel it has an inherent potential of contemporaneity that will help shape human feelings and logic rationally.
Though David Hare has confessed, “I fell into writing plays by accident. But the reason I write plays is that it’s the only thing I’m any good at,” he is so good at it that he rightly hits his time and speaks to his time by being both socially and politically true and conscious.
Abdus Selim is a writer and translator. He is professor of English and Linguistics at North South University and Cental Women’s University.