Stuff Happens

David Hare
National Theatre (Olivier)
(2004)

In the last year, it has been difficult to escape plays about American imperialism in Iraq and the consequences of the War on Terror. Without too much difficulty, the mind dredges up The Madness of George Dubya, Guantanamo and most recently, Tim Robbins' Embedded.

Sir David Hare has always been a political writer, so it should not come as too much of a surprise to find him jumping on this bandwagon. The question that he has found himself having to answer is what he can add to lifetimes of media coverage, Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 and the other plays.

At times, as we have yet another rehash of familiar events, there is a feeling of "not again". The documentary style, with a chorus that is reminiscent of TV news reporters commenting on events, doesn't help.

Where Sir David scores is in two areas. First, with he help of a strong ensemble cast, he manages to give character and humanity to many of the main players. He also supplements the reportage with behind the scenes creativity that puts some spin on to the hard facts.

The play starts with a brief introduction to the key figures as they were in the 1970s. It then jumps to 2001 and the choice between Afghanistan and Iraq as a focal point for US (UN if you prefer) activities.

The events of September 11, 2001 and the political aftermath, bringing us up to the present day, are then explored in detail.

One of director Nicholas Hytner's regular favourites, Alex Jennings, plays George W. as a bumbling man who often gives the impression of a slightly backward teenager. Sir David seems to imply that this innocent cannot be held responsible for much. It is his aides as much as the figurehead that should be blamed for the war.

Condoleezza Rice, nicely played by Adjoa Andoh, calmly schemes, all the time aided by Paul Wolfowitz, Ian Gelder and Dermot Crowley's Donald Rumsfeld.

They are regularly opposed by one of the few genuinely nice people sighted at any point during the three hours. Colin Powell, as the writer is at pains to make clear, is almost unique in that he understands war from the sharp end. He is also both thorough and decent, which ill befits a man in his position.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Nicholas Farrell gets very close to catching Tony Blair's speech patterns and body language as he spends most of the play protecting his back. This becomes increasingly necessary, as the supposedly ubiquitous weapons of mass destruction elude UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix and his team.

Stuff Happens may well be a play that seems far more valuable in a generation from now as the events acquire greater perspective. At the moment, it suffers from a familiarity that is close to overkill, as the history is only a year or two old and events develop by the day. At times it is funny and it makes some good political points but Sir David could have used his talents far better by viewing the war obliquely.

Philip Fisher