IN BRIEF Playwright David Edgar’s skilfully composed part-autobiographical reflection on progress and problems within UK society in the last 50 years.
“If this were a play…” begins noted playwright David Edgar. But it’s not, really. Edgar (now 70) nicely manages our expectations at the outset to produce a relaxed, engaging and intelligent show which ranges far and wide across the last 50 years of UK social history, culminating with, of course, Brexit and his attempts to figure out why his generation voted as they did, and how we got into this situation in the first place.
This one-man show is artfully executed with a playwright’s flair for self-questioning and copious research, together with tight construction and direction (from Christopher Haydon) to keep it bang on its 90-minute running time.
Referencing video and audio of several key players as well as friends and contemporaries, Edgar engagingly outlines some of the key changes in society from 1968 to the current day. Some are encouraging: some are shocking; all are significant.
From his involvement with student politics in the late 1960s to now, Edgar wants to know if he has changed. He has, but the society in which we all live has changed too. It was fascinating to hear that between the first and second editions of Penguin’s The Women’s Book of Rights, it had to be almost entirely rewritten due to the fact that so much progress had been made.
With a clever sequence where Edgar interviews his earlier self (on tape), he questions how his (and society’s) attitudes have morphed through the decades, touching on milestones – student riots, the Three Day Week, Winter of Discontent, the rise of Thatcher, the miners’ strikes, Reagan, the crash, austerity and much more.
Self-professedly not an actor, but certainly a highly capable commentator, Edgar brings us so much of interest – including fascinating bits of theatre history, mentioning his own work, albeit briefly and modestly referenced. He is keen to remind us of the problems and struggles of the past, but he also does not let us miss the immense progress that has been made through these struggles. The fact that so much remains to be done fuels him, and us, to keep going.
There are many questions to the audience and a substantial challenge from the stage manager in her twenties which reminds us that these are solely his views; he modestly accepts this and gives way. There is much here to remind us that we need to participate and not merely be passively accepting of what is fed to us.
At the London show I attended the audience were mostly of Hare’s own age, still engaged and keen to listen.
Ending with asserting a future manifesto for more fairness, equality and constructive action on climate change, it is clear that, happily, there is a lot more energy yet left in David Edgar. And from the delightfully unusual programme (given out at the end of the show) , that there are many groups out there with causes worth fighting for.
As Brexit (possibly) approaches, do take the chance to see one of the last few shows on this tour if you can.
TRYING IT ON tours until October 31st. Venue details and tickets here