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Published 12 November 2008

Politicians, fundraisers, journalists and ordinary members of the public swing around an ethical pivot in David Hare’s new play Gethsemane, which premiered at the National’s Cottesloe theatre last night.

How far should we abuse our own moral code in order to preserve what we think is right? That is the question faced by all the characters in Hare’s new play, which depicts the relationship between scandal, cover-up and exposé within a crumbling Labour government.

In Howard Davies’s production, Meredith Guest (Tamsin Greig) is the British Home Secretary, an idealist who got into politics to ‘make a difference’ but whose attempts are suffocating under a heavy workload and negative immigration headlines. In prioritising politics over family, Meredith’s 16-year-old daughter Suzette (Jessica Raine) has become a problem to be managed. Caught smoking dope at her fee-paying school – which she attends unhappily after her supposedly socialist mother removed her from her comprehensive – Meredith’s assistant Monique and the party’s chief fundraiser Otto manage to fix the problem, until Suzette tells a journalist about the cover up when she sleeps with him at a party.

Sharp-talking Monique (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and fat cat Otto (Stanley Townsend) have no problem treading on ethics to support what they think is the greater good – the government. Otto is all too happy to metaphorically pimp out the Prime Minister to earn party funds from rich businessmen, and Monique proves a capable blackmailer in attempting to smother journalist Geoff Benzine (Adam James)’s story. But Benzine’s own moral code, no less shaky after his exploits with the barely over age Suzette, comes into its own when he risks his career to expose the truth. Meanwhile Meredith, initially dismayed at the cover-up she did not instigate, wrestles with her conscience and family troubles before finding her own way forward.

Stoic in the face of this ethical meltdown is Lori (Nicola Walker), the wife of newly employed fundraiser Mike (Daniel Ryan). A former music teacher who became disillusioned and gave up her job for a life of busking, Lori cannot abide the dubious fundraising methods and parenting skills she encounters. Taking Suzette under her wing, Lori seems a beacon of moral strength in a sea of weakness, until, she is reminded, perhaps the stronger person is the one who carries on regardless, rather than giving up.

Complemented by rapidly moving scenes of London projected onto Bob Crowley’s white set, Hare’s play is a fiercely contemporary portrayal of the inner workings of modern politics and the people that do what ever it takes to prop up their party.



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