The Vertical Hour

David Hare
Theatre by the Lake
Theatre by the Lake

Joanna Simpkins (Nadia Blye), Roger Delves-Broughton (Oliver Lucas) Credit: Keith Pattison
Joanna Simpkins (Nadia Blye), Robert Vernon (Philip Lucas) Credit: Keith Pattison

Hare's 2008 play tackles some of the issues at the heart of the Iraq conflict, which has suddenly become more topical with the publication of the Chilcott Report, but there is much more to it than that.

Nadia Blye teaches politics at Yale University, but she used to be a front-line reporter in war zones and an activist, at one time located in Sarajevo as former Yugoslavia fell apart around it. This skewed her towards military intervention into countries where abuses are occuring, and she advised President Bush as much when he consulted her on going into Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which made her unpopular on campus.

Her boyfriend Philip is English and takes her to meet his father Oliver in Shropshire, a GP who lives in the country in a house where there are no other houses in view. He was very much against the war, but he is friendly and gets her to open up about her views over dinner and wine, questioning her but not attacking her—until one speech when he confronts her with the aftermath of what actually happened in Iraq, whatever the intentions were beforehand.

But this is only one dimension of this fascinating and very well-performed play. It is a play of seeing events and situations from different perspectives, not just the obvious political issue. Philip and Oliver have very different perspectives on how and why Oliver split with his wife. Philip's suspicions about his father's motivations in talking to Nadia don't seem to be borne out by what we (or she) see.

Joanna Simpkins is perfect as the committed and principled activist Nadia, Roger Delves-Broughton is gently, politely persuading, even seductive, as Oliver and Robert Vernon is an uncertain and slightly pathetic as Philip. They work perfectly as a trio. There are a couple of other nice little cameos from Rebecca Carrie and Alex Phelps as two of Nadia's more challenging students that book-end the whole play.

Set in designer Elizabeth Wright's impressionistic painting of Shropshire, Zoë Waterman's production is gripping theatre from beginning to end. This is Theatre by the Lake at its best.

Reviewer: David Chadderton