JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE ABSENCE OF WAR at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 4.4.15. _____________________________________________________
4 stars ****
THE PACE OF the production is as dynamic and driven as the story it tells; but there’s no lack of depth or thought in David Hare’s great 1993 play The Absence Of War, or in Jeremy Herrin’s brilliant and timely revival of it for the acclaimed Headlong company, co-produced by the Rose, Kingston, and Shefffield Theatres. In terms so precise and prescient that it’s hard to believe this text is completely unaltered since 1993, the play shows a fictional 1990’s Labour leader, a charismatic Yorkshireman called George Jones, failing to win a vital general election because of what seem increasingly like inescapable contradictions between basic Labour principles and the nature of the British state – including, as the title suggests, its obsession with past moments of national glory and military triumph.
The play tells this story, though, through something like a political family drama, as the tides of long-term history and short-term political panic sweep through George Jones’s kitchen cabinet, replete with the usual complement of spin-doctors, minders, and disloyal colleagues. Herrin’s production – with a fine big-stage design by Mike Britton that anchors the story firmly in the age of Ceefax and pagers – features a range of fluent and completely persuasive performances from a fine cast of twelve, led by Reece Dinsdale as the failing leader. And at the end, as a new generation of leaders gathers at the Cenotaph, a heretical thought occurs; that only when our leaders remember past wars with less self-congratulation, will the people of these islands finally have a chance to move towards a new politics of progress.