Theatre review: The Vertical Hour at the Park Theatre

Thusitha Jayasunder as Nadia and Peter Davison as Oliver in The Vertical Hour at the Park Theatre

Thusitha Jayasunder as Nadia and Peter Davison as Oliver in The Vertical Hour at the Park Theatre - Credit: Archant

The continuing relevance of David Hare’s The Vertical Hour (premiered in New York in 2006) was emphasised as the press night was last Thursday – the eve of the vote in the Commons for a third campaign of military action in Iraq.

A packed audience was enthralled at this examination of the justifications, or as Yale professor Nadia would say “imperatives”, for going to war interwoven with some heavy duty, North Londonesque late night dinner table conversation examining familial relationships.

The opener to the play is the rather chilling audio of Bush’s announcement to the world of the 2003 invasion. We then find ourselves in Nadia’s seminar with the equally chilling Dennis (played with disarming honesty by Cameron Cuffe) – a disciple of the End of History school of Political Economy and the victory of neo-Liberalism. The scene delivers lots of laughs and a strong underlying comment on the state of the States.

Then, across the pond, to a peaceful English garden in Shrewsbury. Oliver is waiting to greet his transatlantic son and new partner – Nadia. Civilised sparks at once fly between the urbane Oliver and the in-your-face Nadia (played with pace, energy and great sensitivity by Thusitha Jayasundera) and it is not long before they start sparing on the whys and wherefores of invading Iraq.

For those of us of a certain age who read Shaw’s Major Barbara for O-Level, there are strong echoes of the central scene between the eponymous major and her father, Lord Undershaft – including the age difference of the central protagonists.. But, here in Shrewsbury, the plot thickened with liberal doses of post-Sixties’ guilt and Noughties’ pragmatism.

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The dialogue was sparkling and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Peter Davidson (as Oliver) was a brilliant, understated, sly womaniser gradually realising realise that the hunt is dwindling to an end and that he has nothing to show for it other than rather a lot of guilt.

The final scene, the shortest, sees Nadia back in Yale and dealing with a young under-graduate (the assured Pepter Lunkuse) threatening to jack her course in. In what could be her final essay, Terri writes about the USA going to Iraq and concludes that to understand it, all you have to do is to understand that this is simply what bullies do.

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This rather parallels Dennis’ earlier views and knocks the legs out from under the sophistication of Oliver and Nadia’s theories. Out of the mouths of babes...

A totally absorbing theatrical experience with David Hare at his best.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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