14 December 2015 (Mon), National Theatre
An early 20th-century play by Harley Granville Barker. An up-and-coming young politician eyed for a Cabinet post is working on bill to “disestablish” the Church of England, i.e., effectively separate church and state. He is irritated when his lover, a married woman, becomes pregnant; more so when she insists on having an abortion (he wants the child, in a reversal of the usual story); and yet more so when she ultimately commits suicide. But his conscience doesn’t seem to kick into gear until he is unceremoniously dumped by the party as the scandal mounts, which sets him into deep thinking and rash action.
More impressive even than the clever repartee was how politicians on both sides of the issue debate so fiercely and yet so civilly. Those were the good old days. The lead (Charles Edwards) and his lover (Olivia Williams) were both exceptionally good; their debate when the woman reveals her pregnancy was a highlight. The politician who still holds to the principles of the church was also extremely impressive. The most provocative line was at the very end, delivered by the scandal-ridden guy’s sister after his suicide: “Life for its own sake is an overrated thing.” Immediately following, the guy’s colleague laments at what a waste it all was, followed by a striking tableaux of a turned-over wastebasket surrounded by trash. The simple inventive set had panels moving horizontally (sweeping away to reveal a set suddenly full of people) and vertically (rising and falling to reveal an entirely new set). This is called a political drama, but at heart it seems more a personal tragedy than just politics. A fascinating show.