The master of political theatre David Hare brings ‘I’m Not Running’, his new play to the National. However, despite the expectation of another Hare hit amidst the current politically charged climate, the production’s political and emotional games flatter to deceive.

Powerful performances from Siân Brooke as the story’s protagonist Pauline Gibson and Joshua McGuire as her dedicated press officer and confidant Sandy Mynott, ensure this is still a play you should not miss.

Siân Brooke and Joshua McGuire. Photo by Mark Douet

This is Hare’s sixth Labour-focused play. A decade since his smash hit Gethsemane took a hard swipe at New Labour under Tony Blair in 2008. I’m Not Running, feels like it is built especially for the Corbyn era with the narrative centred around the question of whether Pauline is going to run for the the Labour party leadership.

Siân Brooke. Photo by Mark Douet

Hare then retraces the steps which the popular Pauline and Jack Gould (played by Alex Hassell) take to change from student lovers to potential Labour leadership rivals. It focuses on whether party politics is too focused on internal processes rather than resolving the issues effecting the nation, a key Corbyn rhetoric.

Joshua McGuire in I’m Not Running. Photo by Mark Douet

The curtain opens with Sandy facing a press pack demanding to know if Pauline, an independent MP (who we find out has won the hearts of the nation following a successful NHS campaign) will run for the leadership. The revolving set then rewinds to Newcastle in 1997 (the year Blair and New Labour ran away with the election) to reveal medical student Pauline deciding that its time to call time on her tumultuous relationship with the overly eager and heavy drinking trainee lawyer, Jack.

The next two and half hours trace their stories to current day, 21 years later.

Siân Brooke and Alex Hassell. Photo by Mark Douet

We see the pivotal moment when Pauline, a talented, yet maverick junior doctor at a Corby hospital meets Sandy and before long, becomes a national icon by leading the campaign against its closure due to a bill that Jack helped craft.

Alex Hassell. Photo by Mark Douet

Jack himself follows a much more orthodox path – as the son of a leading socialist, he becomes a lawyer and politician. Jack’s story is a cross between the charismatic and attractive Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, whose father was also a leading socialist (one of the storylines that dominates Hare’s decoding of Gould’s character).

The story felt more staccato than a flowing waltz. The numerous attempts to show how stages of Pauline’s life gave her the motives to become such a political tour de force sees the play sometimes lose its verve. A scene where she returns to the south coast to visit her mother (Liza Sadovy) who has become an alcoholic after years of abuse by Gibson’s father does little to endear Pauline to the audience. It is a scene that is slow-paced and feels contrived, adding very little to the story. It does however give an insight into her anger and why her feelings for Jack may have mirrored her mother’s early life.

Siân Brooke and Liza Sadovy. Photo by Mark Douet

This is also true of the arrival of aspiring FGM campaigner Meredith Ikeji (played brilliantly by Amaka Okafor) which was surely to demonstrate the need for more female voices in Parliament, but did little else.

Siân Brooke and Amaka Okafor. Photo by Mark Douet

That being said, as we enter the final straight, the play picks up a pace and, in doing so, the audiences laughter gets louder. It is done without Brexit or Trump being mentioned but instead, by poking fun at Labour in a stupendous penultimate scene that sees Pauline and Jack discuss her new-found popularity. Jack snorts, “the Labour Party’s not interested in votes” and the crowd erupts into uncontrolled abandon. Pauline also quips as to the party’s reluctance to elect a female leader which draws a similar response.

Siân Brooke. Photo by Mark Douet

It was moments like these that the play felt more like a vintage Hare production lightening the mood with typically witty, comedic lines that stay with you long after you’ve left the auditorium.

Even if it sometimes lacks that killer punch, Hare’s I’m Not Running is full of committed performances that make you leave thinking about the moral temperature currently around us in a pre-Brexit Britain. The worrying feeling was that you also leave thinking spin doctors are not that bad after all.

I’m Not Running is on now at the Lyttelton, National Theatre, until 31 January 2019.

Review: I'm Not Running at the National Theatre
4.0Overall Score