‘I’m Not Running’ review – David Hare’s Labour drama fails to score political points

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.

Siân Brooke (Sherlock) is the doctor faced with a tough decision in David Hare’s I’m Not Running. Photo: Mark Douet.

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.

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‘The Lehman Trilogy’ review – Sam Mendes directs this fast-moving and poetic tale of Western capitalism

Adam Godley, Ben Miles and Simon Russell Beale deliver phenomenal performances in this three hour-long epic exploring a detailed history of Western capitalism through the lens of one Bavarian family – ★★★★

They say the best things come in threes. In the case of the National Theatre’s sell-out show, The Lehman Trilogy, actors Godley, Miles and Russell Beale navigate Es Devlin’s incredible office space set with marvellous elegance and professionalism. Unique as individual actors and powerful as a group, the trio flow between multiple characters seamlessly in what is an incredible theatrical feat.

Photo: Mark Douet.

Away from the stage, adapter Ben Power, director Sam Mendes, designer Devlin and pianist Candida Caldicot’s collaboration gives this production its final classical polish. Power’s vibrant writing Live piano melodies from Caldicot heighten the  while Mendes’ direction feels suitably methodical on Devlin’s revolving set. It’s fast-moving – both in sense of chronology and choreography.

Such is the pace of the production that it can at times feel a lot to take in – the two intervals allowing the audience time to process each part of the time-travelling tale. This may sound worrying for a play exploring as complex an issue as the progress of Western capitalism, but explored through the lens of The Lehman Brothers, the wider points about economics, marketing and finance become clearer and more anecdotal.

Another grounding aspect of the trilogy, which also provides some wonderful charm and humour, are the little motifs which appear regularly throughout the production. Tightrope walkers, card dealers, shop signs and the announcement that one is about to “take my leave” are wonderful bursts of eccentricity which, together with incredible performances from the cast – breathe life into the financial world in which we find ourselves.

Three hours and three parts later, and there’s three well-deserved bows for a sensational trio of performers. Truly classical in nature, The Lehman Trilogy is a fine piece of immersive, three-dimensional theatre.

While standard tickets for The Lehman Trilogy at the Lyttleton Theatre are now sold out, day tickets can still be bought on the day of the performance and Friday Rush tickets are also available every week at 1pm. 16 to 25 year olds can also purchase tickets through the National Theatre Entry Pass scheme.

‘Network’ review: Bryan Cranston is sensational in this timely adaptation of Chayefsky’s classic

I’m mad as hell, as I’m not going to take this anymore’ is the chant at the centre of Paddy Chayefsky’s classic film, Network. In a time of post-truth and outrage, Lee Hall’s adaptation for the National Theatre adds a present-day backdrop which makes the story all the more chilling.

Howard Beale is the anchorman turned sensationalist messenger in this thought-provoking production. Photo: Jan Versweyveld.

Enter Howard Beale (Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston), a news anchorman who breaks down live on air, announcing his plan to kill himself on his television show in a week’s time. What follows is the tale of commercial corruption and opinion vs. fact as the network obsesses over the boost in ratings…

Over nearly two hours, the story unfolds in an immersive multimedia format that further adds a modern touch to the plot. A large screen towers on-stage and on a set that serves as a studio, newsroom and restaurant (from which lucky audience members can eat and view the show) all at once. Add that to moments of audience participation and scenes outside the theatre and Ivo van Hove’s immersive direction smashes the fourth wall, bringing us further into the dystopian world.

It’s an intensity compounded by Cranston’s performance, delivering powerful and thought-provoking monologues effortlessly. Naturally, such a portrayal of the main protagonist detracts from other sub-plots – in this case, the rather under-developed story of Head of News Max Schumacher (Primeval‘s Douglas Henshall) and Director of Programming Diana Christensen’s (Downton Abbey‘s Michelle Dockery) relationship. Although brilliantly acted by the pair, it’s overshadowed by a feeling of it all being a bit too cliché and – in amongst the more extreme parts of the play – feels out of place.

Yet, it’s a play which demands further thought after seeing it. With no interval, there isn’t enough thinking time to process it all until the final bow. At that point, one can consider Howard Beale’s words – including a powerful closing speech – and Max and Diana’s partnership in more depth. It’s the sign of three incredible individuals coming together. Hall’s writing mixes with van Hove’s production to create the perfect atmosphere for Cranston to take centre-stage, delivering a performance that is – in every meaning of the word – sensational.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars