Arts Review: The Absence of War

Dir. Jeremy Herrin, The Citizens, 31st March-4th April 2015

David Hare’s The Absence of War was first performed in 1993 depicting the internal struggle emerging within a fictionalisation of the Labour party between the old style left and the new pulls to the centre. The frictions and the rhetoric of these ideological struggles makes Jeremy Herrin’s revitalisation ring familiar with our current political environment.

George Jones (played brilliantly by Reese Dinsdale) is the charismatic leader of the Labour party leading an election campaign which he cannot, for both professional and personal reasons, afford to lose.

The ‘absence of war’ itself could indicate multiple things. As Labour seems set to veer closer to the centre there is increasingly less ideological battle with their Conservative opponents – a move resulting in public confusion and mistrust; the repeated reference to the importance of Labour candidate continuity, favouring the impression of whole party agreement (however contrived) at the expense of genuine ideological differences is driving a Labour party, already fundamentally divided, to breaking point.

There is also the absence of fight within Jones himself as an array of spin-doctors, speech writers, press secretaries and tricky television interviews seem to replace the core of Jones’ own beliefs resulting in a conference speech void of articulated passion: what is socialism? He can’t quite remember.

Referring, of course, to the election of 1992, there is a sense of impending doom throughout: a stage filled with television screens showing unfavourable poll ratings helps to signify the ominous outcome. This does not mean, however, that the production lacks pace. Dialogue driven as the play may be, Garance Marneur’s slick design provides quick scene change and versatile setting: red blinds dropping down to show the reversed slogan of a rally as the characters prepare to walk out to the crowds: this is a play, after all, which focuses little on what happens on the political stage, far more on the intricacies of relations behind the curtains.

With the 7th May looming closer, The Absence of War proves alarmingly relevant more than two decades on. There are warning signs, ignored by the New Labour which followed, but which feel equally cautionary to the party today. Perhaps only time will tell whether these signs are heeded…

[Tara Fitzpatrick – @TFitzpatrick25]

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