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the complete review - drama
The Vertical Hour
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- The Vertical Hour was first performed at the Music Box Theater in New York on 30 November, 2006, in a production directed by Sam Mendes and starring Bill Nighy and Julianne Moore
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B : provocative, but not entirely successfully framed and presented
See our review for fuller assessment.
Very mixed, with most of the praise reserved for Bill Nighy's performance
From the Reviews:
- "Although there are aspects of The Vertical Hour I find unpersuasive, what finally matters is the play's total gesture. I can forgive Hare's flaws for the force of his central argument: that you cannot separate public actions from private lives and that flight from reality is ultimately a sin. (...) In a nutshell, Hare's play, whatever its flaws, is about big ideas. Not just the tragic mess of Iraq. It also deals with the lawlessness of elected politicians, Anglo-American cultural differences, the dangers of denial, the futility of isolating politics from private life." - Michael Billington, The Guardian
- "The Vertical Hour is not a good play, though it expresses certain views with great crispness and force. (...) The Vertical Hour is better than the latest plays by Caryl Churchill and Sam Shepard and it may be one of those works that will mean more 10 years from now. At the moment, though, what one registers is disappointment." - Paul Taylor, The Independent
- "Hare canít bring this off without being a trifle condescending to Americans, but itís the first treatment of Iraq Iíve seen that handles the catastrophe in a way thatís at all affirmative. It begins to look past the decision to invade, and to wonder what we do about our ideals now. Unfortunately, this momentary largeness of spirit comes wrapped in two hours of meandering drama. Nadiaís journey, which I think was intended to be subtle, is obscure, and not particularly moving." - Jeremy McCarter, New York
- "The Vertical Hour continues David Hareís preoccupation with public events and private agony, with clashing systems of beliefs, moral compromise and political commitment, humanitarian ideals and fragile human beings.(...) Mr. Hareís political play is a prestigious event. But for Americans exhausted by years of turbulent debates about the war in Iraq, I regret to say that The Vertical Hour is old news." - John Heilpern, The New York Observer
- "The war is still very much on Mr. Hare's mind, but this time he addresses it in a lead-footed parable in which American exceptionalism runs smack into British world-weariness, leaving everyone weepy and chagrined. It's the kind of play in which the characters hint at devastating experiences that they'd rather not talk about in Act I, then talk about them in Act II. Tears are shed. Lessons are learned. And on the other side of the footlights, eyes are rolled. Not even an enormously confident performance by the cagey Bill Nighy can rescue Mr. Hare or, sadly, leading lady Julianne Moore, from the quagmire of pop-psychology bromides and potted "Crossfire" chat. (...) Much of the play is windbaggy and predictable but competent enough, until Mr. Hare wraps things up with a jawdropper of an ending" - Eric Grode, The New Yorlk Sun
- "David Hareís soggy consideration of the Anglo-American culture divide (.....) For all its obvious topicality, much of The Vertical Hour feels like a musty throwback to the psychological puzzle plays of the 1950s, which translated the dynamic of the analystís couch into theatrical confrontation and revelation. The watchword here is "underneath," spoken in knowing italics and introduced early in the play" - Ben Brantley, The New York Times
- "The Vertical Hour is glib but not good, a sort of boulevard cocktail of contemporary concerns -- terrorism, the Iraq war, the state of British and American democracies -- to which he adds a dollop of Oedipal struggle, a pinch of Freud, and a dash of romantic confusion. (...) If the play sounds like a bit of an intellectual hodgepodge, well, it is." - John Lahr, The New Yorker
- "It is unusual for Broadway to give a premiere to a play that is as topical as it is serious, articulate, witty and absorbing, and yet I canít say that I exactly warmed to The Vertical Hour. Or, rather, it left me feeling the way I do about much of George Bernard Shawís work. The play fizzes with intellectual passion but tends to falter when things get inner and personal. It is almost as if Hare is in a debate with himself on a truckload of subjects, starting with the rights and wrongs of Iraq." - Benedict Nightingale, The Times
- ""Despair's an affectation," Nadia tells Terri. "It's self-indulgence." Terri shoots back: "It's more like not fooling yourself." By suggesting the truth is more complicated than either woman maintains, The Vertical Hour takes us on a bracing, if not entirely smooth, ride." - Elysa Gardener, USA Today
- "(S)hiftily self-important and inconsequential" - Michael Feingold, The Village Voice
- "It's a lively dissection of how two cultures look at the world's troubles. As embodied by Nighy's Oliver Lucas and Moore's Nadia Blye, an Anglo-American alliance must be strong enough to support conflicting doctrines about what counts as engagement with the world. Implicit in the play is Hare's deep displeasure over what he sees as Britain's allowing itself to be drawn into Iraq by America's powerful pull. What he has written, however, seems less condemning than illuminating, about how British and American sensibilities over such interventions might differ." - Peter Marks, The Washington Post
Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers.
Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.
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The complete review's Review:
The central character in The Vertical Hour is former war correspondent Nadia Blye, now, in her mid-thirties, teaching Political Studies at Yale.
The central issue of the play is whether or not it is possible to, essentially, set aside one's private life;
Nadia's professional life is the world at large -- 'politics', in all its manifestations -- and she tries to escape it in the relationship she has chosen, with Philip Lucas, an expatriate English physiotherapist.
Over the course of the play, Hare repeatedly has her confronted with the fact that the personal can not be separated out, that even intimacy and love can only for so long be sustained by essentially playing along and masking elements of one's true self.
The first scene with her has Nadia discussing an essay with a student, Dennis Dutton; the play closes with a similar scene, with another student, Terri Scholes.
Dennis and Terri have very different opinions -- different also from their teacher's -- about politics, and both also acknowledge being motivated by love: Dennis is so smitten by his teacher that he's "lost weight alarmingly", while Terri is so broken-up about her break-up with her boyfriend that she's set to quit Yale entirely.
The students' absolutism allows for some political argument -- but given the extremes of their positions it's fairly simplistic.
(Dutton believes simply that "America wins. It always wins" (and he's all for that), while Terri argues that the jr. Bush invaded Iraq solely because: "he knew he'd get away with it".)
And Nadia's reaction to Dennis professing his love is, while perhaps also telling, downright silly: "I'm a feminist and what you're saying makes me angry".
(Arguably -- at least a lot of the critics treat it as if it is -- the play is concerned with the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (which Nadia supported), but it never feels in any way pertinent.
Iraq serves as an example (as does the war in Yugoslavia), but feels almost at the same remove as bringing up World War II would.
Ultimately, there's too much else going on here -- and the issues raised by the invasion and occupation of Iraq aren't treated closely enough -- for this to be much of an 'Iraq-play'.)
More interesting, and more nuanced, is the meat of the play, when Nadia and Philip travel to England, visiting his father, Oliver, a doctor, along the way.
The two men have a strained relationship, with Philip blaming his father for the break-up of his parent's marriage (and the pain his mother suffered).
Oliver was quite the ladies'-man -- "The more people you sleep with, the more you learn" was apparently his creed, but the wife only went along with that for so long.
And there's more to Oliver as well, as his career took an abrupt turn from leading specialist to backwoods G.P.
Hare's characters are a bit too stock and simple: Oliver seems believable enough (though also in a larger than life way), but Nadia and especially Philip are types that aren't entirely convincing.
Nadia is described as having essentially chosen Philip, in an obvious attempt to find something that otherwise escaped her -- but could she really fool herself for this long ?
Near the end Nadia tries to convince her student:
We have to fight this, we have to fight our own feelings, we must try and be objective.
But she continues to practise self-deception too, making her a somewhat frustrating figure.
There is, however, appeal to much of The Vertical Hour.
Hare does the small bits well: the drama (or the mini-dramas within), and especially the confrontational, head-to-head polite dance of unequals (student-teacher, visitor-host) that makes up much of the action.
(Even Nadia and Philip's dialogues are those of unequals, it being clear that Nadia deigns to be with Philip, rather than accepting him as a true equal.)
The Vertical Hour is also an agreeably (if also often frustratingly) provocative play, as Hare throws out a lot of ideas and challenging assumptions.
There's a great deal that makes for discussion-fodder -- and, fortunately, most of it rises above the level of the argument: Iraq, right or wrong (for example).
There's almost too much he throws in the air here, and he doesn't juggle all of it neatly enough, but it certainly is a play that makes you think and want to argue -- i.e. that provokes reactions.
And there's a lot to be said for that.
Note: The Vertical Hour premiered in New York, and so it's all the more noticeable that Hare gets some of the American detail wrong (though he does make a point of having Nadia 'correct' Philip when he speaks of the boot of a car: "And we say trunk. In the States we say trunk.").
At Yale, like pretty much everywhere in the United States, the field is Political Science, not 'Political Studies', and the one-on-one sessions Nadia has with her students seem unlikely in the US (that's a British way of doing things).
And statements such as Nadia's: "In liberal Connecticut defending the war has not been a popular position" don't ring true: a Yale professor like her would surely hardly even be cognizant of Connecticut, her frame of reference instead being either solely on-campus-attitudes, or a New York or East Coast frame of mind.
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The Vertical Hour:
Other books by David Hare under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- See Index of Drama under review
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About the Author:
English playwright David Hare was born in 1947.
He has written many plays and screenplays and won numerous prizes.
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© 2006-2008 the complete review
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