The National Theatre Live’s screenings to theatres throughout the UK are always a fantastic opportunity to see the most current and relevant British productions in an accessible and affordable way. I’m Not Running, David Hare’s melodramatic retelling of British politics from the mid-1990s to today, is certainly relevant to today’s society in its depiction of personal passion compared to the party machine. However, the unrelenting intensity of the writing, coupled with the inexplicable exclusion of current political events, lessens the impact of this relevance. Instead, the result is a flawed and disappointing production, so lacking in nuance that even the vivid performances of the cast cannot save it.
I’m Not Running portrays the journey of Pauline Gibson from angsty medical student to the junior doctor to Independent MP and angel of the NHS, on the brink of announcing her campaign for the Labour leadership. Gibson’s life is presented to the audience through disjointed, non-linear scenes that are only connected by their unrelenting emotional intensity, giving the audience no time to catch their breath.
The protagonist’s journey is paralleled by that of her university boyfriend Jack Gould, indirectly forced by his father’s political infamy into becoming a plastic Labour politician. The stark contrast between the protagonist’s passion and cynicism and her ex-lovers hypocrisy creates highly emotional scenes that are exhausting to watch and obvious in their intent.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about this production was the revolving stage, which allowed set designer Ralph Myers to explore the relationship between public and private space and between politicians and the media. Interviews with Gibson and Gould were projected onto the stage, highlighting the artifice of their self-representation by distancing them from the audience. Meanwhile, private scenes such as between Gibson and her manipulative alcoholic mother are contained within a messy, claustrophobic box. The recording of the production, directed by Jon Driscoll, exploited Myers’ staging in the press conferences, by shooting the ‘journalists’ hidden in the wings and thus portraying the lack of human connection between the media and politicians.
As expected from a production of this calibre, all of the actors excelled in their roles. Siân Brooke’s relentless energy and passionate cynicism created an unnerving character of Gibson, both intimidating and fragile in her anger and drive. Alex Hassell added a layer of dark humour to his portrayal of the slimy MP Gould, whose ignorance of his own hypocrisy and artifice would be laughable if it weren’t so close to many of today’s MPs.
A special mention must be given to both Joshua McGuire and Amaka Okafor, whose respective characters of a PR man and an optimistic Westminster runner were striking in their authenticity and humanity.
In spite of the actors’ dedication to their characters, I’m Not Running is a disappointing production due to its lack of nuance and failure to incorporate key political events from the last few years, despite some scenes being set in 2018. Most notably, there is no reference to Brexit, and issues within the Labour party are limited to vague considerations of racial and gender equality.
The depiction of women is particularly upsetting – the most prominent woman of colour in the production is killed off for no justifiable reason, and we are robbed of a strong female protagonist by the underlying idea that Gibson’s entire political career is merely a reaction against her university boyfriend.
Although I’m Not Running appears to try and correct some of the wrongs prevalent in British politics today, it succeeds only in perpetuating them further.
I’m Not Running
Image: Mark Douet, via Capital Theatres