Siân Brooke (Sherlock) is powerful and emotive as junior doctor Pauline Gibson despite a weak, confusing script from the political playwright – ★★☆☆☆
With politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson gaining increasing popularity in the word of personality politics, one would hope that a play exploring the relationship between the individual and the party – written by someone described as “the premiere political dramatist writing in English” – would be a sharp, critical look at a rising trend.
I’m Not Running, David Hare’s 17th production for the National Theatre, chronicles Pauline Gibson (Brooke) and her journey into Labour party politics after campaigning to save her local hospital. It’s a story which, in the 70th birthday year of the NHS and at the time of Corbynism, has a lot of promise in terms of political commentary. Yet instead, it all feels rather dated. Old jokes about Labour are cracked which we’ve heard in the political arena already, and the disorienting jumps between the past and the present fail to keep things fresh.
As such, what could have been a tense political drama becomes a slow, dragging romance. Ralph Myers’ revolving, domestic set design feels repetitive after several scenes, while the many subplots of the show only really gain impact in the final moments of the second and final act.
Pauline’s relationship with ambitious young campaigner Meredith Ikeji (Amaka Okafor) is raw and emotional, while the main feud between Pauline and her ex-boyfriend Jack (boldly played by Alex Hassell) comes to a head in the last few moments of the show. The tension is entertaining, but long overdue – an underwhelming result of a whole act’s worth of build-up. There’s two contrasting feelings that the production has more to offer, or could have a much shorter running time.
On the topic of running, the play’s title, I’m Not Running, relates to the question of whether Pauline is considering standing for leader of the Labour party – something brilliantly set up in the first scene with her advisor, Sandy (Joshua McGuire) during a refreshing, intelligent take on a typical press conference. As the show edges towards Pauline’s decision, her reasons aren’t quite so clear as a result of the rather confusing, tangled plot. Its closing remarks feel like a rushed attempt at making political comments about issues such as female representation in the Labour party which don’t fit in to the wider plot. Whatever points Hare were trying to make are lost in what is a predictable, disappointing conclusion.
There’s a sense that the playwright wanted the motif of running to relate to Pauline’s character. It could well refer to her shying away from press attention throughout the play – the result of a broken woman with a lot of emotional baggage – but such an idea doesn’t work when the character is passionately played by Siân Brooke. It could never have been a tale of ‘soul searching’ when her character is confident from the start. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the script.
I’m Not Running is currently playing at the Lyttleton Theatre until 31 January 2019.