I’m Not Running is a political drama without much to say – review

Mark Douet

David Hare’s new play, which has opened at the National Theatre, covers some interesting political topics but lacks teeth.

I’m Not Running is a new political play which focuses on the life of Pauline Gibson (Sian Brooke), a former doctor who has become a single-issue independent MP. Having found herself a national icon, following her successful campaign to save Corby hospital, she is considering joining the Labour party and running for leader. The contest would pit her against her former university lover Jack Gould (Alex Hassell), a career politician and son of a prominent Labour historian.

It’s an interesting concept for a play and certainly some elements work well; there is one particularly strong scene, involving the encounter of the two potential candidates at a funeral wake. It features a very frank exchange with some witty and accurate observations of the current state of the Labour party, focusing on its obsessions with process and party rules, its apparent disregard for winning votes and the absolute reluctance to elect a female leader.

In spite of these contemporary nods, however, a lot of the play feels very dated. There is no mention of Corbyn, Momentum or Brexit. With the focus instead on issues like the credit crunch and rationalisation of public services, and with only passing reference to the hugely significant role technology plays in today’s political landscape, it feels very much like politics 2008 as opposed to politics 2018.

Related: Ralph Fiennes shines in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre – review

We weren’t entirely convinced with the narrative structure, either. It opens strongly, with an amusingly-staged press conference focusing on whether or not Pauline will run – but after this the timeline is non-linear, jumping around more than 20 years of back story. We gain an insight into Pauline’s life – time at home with her alcoholic mother, studying at university, life as a junior doctor, running the hospital campaign and her foray into politics. It’s all quite a slow and drawn out process, however – the play clocks in at over two and a half hours – and not every scene adds a great deal to the narrative.

Ultimately our main issue with I’m Not Running, though, is that it just doesn’t say very much – and what it does say, it doesn’t do so very convincingly. When a prominent issue is raised, such as FGM, it is simply presented as a series of facts and figures as opposed to discussed in any meaningful way. It’s difficult to say exactly what the take homes are meant to be – yes, we know closing hospitals is unpopular, and yes, we know politicians are often economical with the truth. We felt it just didn’t really have anything new or interesting to say.

I’m Not Running is an interesting concept for a play and it has one superb scene. It’s a shame it’s not consistently strong throughout – it feels like it takes too long to say anything, and when it finally does, it just doesn’t say quite enough.

Gay Times gives I’m Not Running -★★☆☆☆

More information can be found here.

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