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The Absence of War

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

For those who remember when there was something called old Labour, there's something heart-breaking watching Jeremy Herrin's vital revival of David Hare's fictionalisation of the Labour Party's 1992 General Election campaign. Herrin's production for Headlong with the Rose Theatre Kingston and Sheffield Theatres on tour opens with a driven coterie of speech-writers, minders, spin doctors and pin-striped PRs flitting urgently around unreconstructed Party leader George Jones. Given everything that has happened in UK politics in the two decades since Hare's play first appeared, what follows now looks like a final fanfare for the common man who has been replaced by the business of bad management.

In this way, Reece Dinsdale's theatre-loving Jones is thrust from strategy meeting to TV studio to podium, burying his core beliefs until even he forgets what they are as he's betrayed by oily careerists on the make. Where Hare's play remains a prophecy of the state we're in now, Herrin's production also reveals it as a history lesson which the current wave of sharp-suited political classes must learn from. With a real life General Election looming, they probably won't.

Dinsdale cuts a knowingly tragic figure as Jones as the rest of Herrin's thirteen-strong cast who include a dynamic James Harkness as Jones' political minder by turns pander, protect, plot and scheme about him. “Let's become Tories,” Jones flails ironically after he's lost. “They always win.”

As the audience leaves, it's to the muted strains of D:Ream's Blairite anthem, Things Can only Get Better. As history has proven, for most people who bought into the New Labour con trick, they didn't, but they may yet.
 
The Herald, April 2nd 2015

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