If you’re politically inclined, you’re going to adore The Vertical Hour. The delightful thing is that you’ll love it even if you’re politically ambivalent, as a clash of wills rages elegantly between two beautifully created key characters. By LESLEY STONES.
The synopsis of play The Vertical Hour sounds like the theatrical equivalent of a political discourse you might hear in the run-up to elections.
In a nutshell: the Iraq issue, and whether the US got involved as a humanitarian act to end the suffering, or as a cynical calculation to flex its muscles through invented bogeymen.
If you’re politically inclined, you’re going to adore The Vertical Hour. The delightful thing is that you’ll love it even if you’re politically ambivalent, as a clash of wills rages elegantly between two beautifully created key characters.
If the play shines because of its intelligent, witty and wordy script, it gains a magical touch of luminescence from Michael Richard and Jackie Rens. They positively glow as Oliver Lucas, an arrogant but mellowing British doctor, and Nadia Blye, an American lecturer in politics who is dating Oliver’s son.
David Hare’s brilliant script is deep and thoughtful, presenting myriad arguments that swirl around war and foreign policy and spill over into the morals of individual lives and loves.
Richard and Rens command the stage and rivet your attention by their every move. The friction between them is electrifying, exposing Oliver’s son Philip (Richard Gau) as an insubstantial shadow against his father’s light.
Gau does an excellent job, oozing insecurity and jealousy as the mere presence of his father shatters his all-grown-up façade. “Kids are not meant to be objects of satire – most parents don’t use their kids to refine their jokes on,” he protests with a skill that makes the line funny as well as tragic.
The Vertical Hour is rich with verbal foreplay and crackling tensions, enhanced by the personal stories built into each character. Oliver’s failed marriage and endless philandering, Nadia’s scarring memories from being a war correspondent in Sarajevo, and Philip’s decision of flight rather than fight.
Anchor points at the beginning and end show Nadia at Yale University debating with young political affairs students (Jaco van Rensburg and Sinakho Zokuta). Nadia dismisses the infatuated attentions of the male student by pointing out that the idea of having women on TV talking about politics isn’t so they can turn men on.
Despite its intense subject – or perhaps because of it – the play whips along at a cracking pace, interspersed with quieter moments of reflection and confession under the deft directorship of Fred Abrahamse.
It’s an absolute delight.
The Vertical Hour runs at Montecasino until 9 November. DM
Photos: Pat Bromilow-Downing