I’m Not Running
National Theatre, London ★★✩✩✩
SIAN BROOKE might actually one day make a good politician. Beneath the Doctor Foster and Sherlock star’s everywoman approachability is a high-tensile steel — the kind that could make you think you are shaking hands with the girl-next-door until you realise your fingers are crushed.
Brooke would also be a great choice to star in a play about why Labour has never had a female leader. Alas, David Hare’s latest play does not quite explore that. It doesn’t quite explore anything, other than the journey of Brooke’s doctor-turned-MP Pauline to the pivotal moment where she decides whether to run for the party leadership.
Her rival is ex lover Jack Gould (Alex Hassell) who, as the son of a Labour bigwig, sees the job as his destiny and Pauline, whose popularity stems from saving a hospital from closure, as a threat. Yet the focus is on the personal rather than the political. There is little that recognises today’s Labour Party which, depending on your point of view, is either poised for power or ripping itself apart.
Granted, there is dialogue suggesting an intolerance of views which stray from the position of its most ardent activists. But this is discussed only briefly.
Neil Armfield’s production fails to save the play from the sense it was conceived before the changes in Labour over the past three years. And although Hare has been our foremost political dramatist for decades, that legacy only adds to the sense of a waning theatrical power.