Hare’s Breadth

You may want to know what David Hare’s Amy’s View is about. Hard to answer – the best I can do is: It’s about life. About mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, human relations. It is about the childlike artist and the diligent worker; about theater versus real life; about art versus pseudo-art (TV, action movies); about being right but ultimately wrong, or wrong but ultimately proven right. It is about the lure and pitfalls of a materialistic society, about whether love and faith and perseverance will prevail over hedonism and greed or be unjustly punished. It is also about God, in the guise of a theater director, and fickle at that. It is, I repeat, about life.

Being about life, it is about surprises all the way. Big surprises that the author springs on us quasi-casually, and leaves not fully explained. Amy’s Viewis about dots that you yourself must struggle to connect. For example: Does art imitate life or vice versa? Who is saved: the actressy, irresponsible star and grande dame, the seemingly defeated Esme; or the largely realistic and clear-sighted daughter, the morally involved activist yet probably even more defeated Amy? Amy’s eponymous view assumes different meanings in the course of the play, yet all are attempts at a clearer perception, truer understanding of our existence. Does this come about? You tell me.

It would be an insult to this multifarious play to reveal more. It defies easy summary, prompt evaluation. You must pay close attention to details, and think long after; I have only just begun. Meanwhile, there is the production. As Esme, Judi Dench is all you have heard in advance of her dazzling skill, all you have seen of her powerful personality on film, and much, much more. She has all the timing, modulations, implications, and vocal and visual range in the world, and then that extra something I can only call soul.

And what support she gets from the rest. As Amy, the excellent Samantha Bond devastatingly portrays the yearning for a saner world that in Hare is usually doomed. Tate Donovan, as Dominic, the man she impetuously gets involved with and eventually marries, unaffectedly conveys the imperfect creators and dubious creatures most of us are. As Esme’s neighbor and business adviser (too good at the one, not good enough at the other), Ronald Pickup touchingly captures an older version of Dominic who nevertheless has come no closer to resolving the ambiguities of his nature. Anne Pitoniak epitomizes the well-meaning busybody, mother of Esme’s late artist husband, who through mere longevity becomes a guiltless but heavy burden on her family. Only Maduka Steady, as a young actor, decent but unduly impressionable, fails to communicate the pathos of mindless amiability.

Extremely interesting is the décor by Bob Crowley. Whereas the designer is known for his daring and elaborate inventions (see his contribution to the current Iceman Cometh), here he offers a rigorously subdued stage picture that only in the end turns explosively and awe-inspiringly – but perhaps also disquietingly – theatrical. Mark Henderson’s lighting is cogently restrained, and Richard Eyre’s assured direction keeps everything simple and to the point: The occasional linguistic shortcomings or mechanistic exits and entrances are prevented from becoming obvious.

Hare’s Breadth