Stuff Happens

Saturday, 11 September, 2004
Review by: 
Alan Bird

We all have a view on the war on Iraq. Was it just? Was it legal? Why did it happen? In fact there seems to be nothing about the war in Iraq that is not swamped in a quagmire of controversy. However, no matter how deep the controversy becomes, we need only be reminded of the justifications our illustrious leaders provided for going to war to know that it is they themselves who have dug the foxhole they now find themselves trapped in.

David Hare’s play contains very little new information, so what is the point of re-hashing the justifications for the war? After all, Hare is not an investigative journalist, he relies mostly on verbatim speeches of material in the public domain and his conclusions about the political imprudence of Bush and Blair will surprise very few members of his audience. The point is the way Hare users this material to highlight the relationships between the politicians. For example, Blair comes across as sycophantic and as someone totally irrelevant to the decisions being made in Washington. We discover that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld hated Blair and that Colin Powell, despite his reservations, does more than compromise his position of “exhausting all diplomatic efforts” but actually capitulates to Cheney’s hawkish agenda.

David Hare allows pro-war sentiments to be heard in his play, one of his characters gives a powerful and compelling speech in which he criticises those who from their positions of luxury condemn the methods of the war and yet ignore the gift of freedom provided to the Iraqi people. A Blairite makes a comment about the terrible failures caused by lack of planning for the reconstruction of Iraq, but ends with the comment “But still, a dictator was removed”.

Nicholas Hytner’s staging of the production is minimalist: the stage remains empty apart from chairs placed around the sides and one large boardroom table. There is a large empty frame on the back wall in which different iconic images appear to allow you to locate the scene: the door of 10 Downing street, a barn to represent Bush’s Texas ranch, etc. The stage remains a sea of men in grey suits, except at Bush’s ranch where less formal attire suffices. They address each other or the audience about policy, public perception and their opinions of each other. Whilst this minimalist setting helps keep the focus on the play as a documentary as opposed to a work of fiction, it does become tiresome after 3 hours.

The actors all perform excellent facsimiles of the politicians they are portraying. Alex Jennings portrays Bush as a country hick who also happens to be an astute politician, a man who lacks erudition but not resolve. It is this sense of purpose that makes the real George W Bush so scary; a disquieting moment in the play is when Bush explains to an Arab politician that he invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq because God told him to do it!

Nicholas Farrell’s Tony Blair is driven by political ambition and survival as much as by idealistic ideology. Farrell captures Blair’s smile of insincerity, the earnest hand gestures and the sombre tone to his voice that Blair seems to have deliberately cultivated over the years in his efforts to convince us he is a man we can trust.

Desmond Barritt’s Dick Cheney is crude and ruthless, and Dermot Crowley’s Donald Rumsfeld is arrogant and belligerent, both personality traits we have come to associate with these two powerful men. Joe Morton’s Colin Powell is strong willed, forceful and angry, which is the way Hare presents the Secretary of State within the play. This is one portrayal that I believe Hare has got wrong, if Powell was the rebel for peace encircled by hawks of war why did he not resign?

Nick Sampson gives the best performance as Dominique de Villepin, the French Foreign Minister. Sampson glows with conceit has he clinically exposes the stench of hypocrisy in Blair and Bush’s motivations for wanting a new UN resolution on Iraq.

David Hare has named his play after the famous remark made by Rumsfeld in which he dismissed the chaos caused by the looting in Iraq immediately after the invasion with a shrug of the shoulders and the comment “Stuff Happens”. Hare gives the final comment to an Iraqi who asks “Who is counting the Iraqi dead?” That is a question we in the West would prefer not to be answered!!

In this documentary play, Hare appears to be painting a portrait of our leaders and saying, when you elect people like this “Stuff Happens”.


photos by IVAN KYNCL

What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A beautifully staged and acted production." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "A very good, totally compelling play." NEAL ASCHERSON for THE OBSERVER says, "Gives us plenty to think about but not enough to stir the emotions." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "The dramatist has had the gall to raise serious doubts about the wisdom and honesty of both the Coalition’s leaders....a play that strikes me as hard-hitting, yet balanced enough...."

External links to full reviews from popular press
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