“I wanted to explain what is required to become a playwright.”
This was the simple response of eminent playwright David Hare, who discussed his memoir The Blue Touch Papers
on the final day of DLF 2017 with Bangladeshi writer and editor Khademul Islam.
“I remember someone very prominent from the left who suggested it was dangerous to be on the left and have a sense of humour,” laughed Hare, starting the conversation with an anecdote on how his love of satire got him on the wrong side of the right, the left and the feminist movement in the UK during the early stages of his career.
Speaking of the sexually and culturally repressive England from the 1950s, he said, “There was a dictatorship of conformity at the time. And when the lady next door took all her clothes off and walked into the ocean to commit suicide, I knew instinctively that it was that social pressure of conformity.”
He also spoke of the entrenched class system of British society, adding, “there was a feeling throughout Britain that institutions had stopped serving us, and the working class experience was only finding a voice through music, theatre and the arts.”
Peppered with delightful analogies like “it was as different as chalk and cheese”, Hare went on to talk about his days travelling in the US (leading to his determination to “break away from the tendency to caricaturise Americans in British plays”), his admiration of and subsequent disappointment with Tony Blair and his inability to understand why people choose to leave theatres at the oddest times.
“Doesn't it make more sense to leave during the interval, instead of coming back for the second half and then leaving when it starts?” he asked quizzically.
“During my play Stuff Happens,
I actually asked someone at a showing in Los Angeles – do they object to what the Palestinian character has to say? His response was quite shocking – I object to there being a Palestinian on the American stage. This tells you a lot about the play itself – because it only really happens in the minds of the audience.”
Hare also made his lack of patience with certain forms of modern theatre filled with improvisation and over-the-top performances abundantly clear, saying “that kind of work suggests our imaginations have failed us, and it is impossible to say anything at the moment, and all we can do is blabber in images that are deliberately negative and destructive.”
“Style is a great mystery of art. I cannot tell you why a dialogue pleases or displeases me, I can only tell you what sounds right. A playwright doesn't really choose a subject, the subject chooses him.”
The panel ended with Hare referring to one of the more enduring concerns of British society – the
Ashes and his prediction of it.
“Ben Stokes was intervening on behalf of a victim of homophobic abuse and because of that he swung a punch, but because he did that, we're going to lose the Ashes.”