The craft of David Hare is how he blends the political and personal in a mutual metaphor that illustrates a theme.  Plenty is a play about freedom,  the personal freedom of a woman to live a life of adventure in an environment where this was frowned on.  It’s also about boredom.   The political backdrop is the erosion of empire, the debacle of Suez and the realisation having won the war, Britain was no longer a great power in the world. 

Susan is a young woman with yearning for adventure.  During the latter years of the second world war, she served with the French Resistance; dangerous, exciting work, risking her life and snatching love whenever she could.   Back in England after the war, she could not recapture that same  excitement and adventure she needed working in an shipping office, organising events,  creating television advertisements.   She was bored.  Only Alice, who didn’t give a damn about what people thought,  provided the sense of fun she desperately needed.  But after a failed relationship with a street trader, Mick (played by  Sting),  she was admitted to a mental institution, and rescued by Raymond, a minor diplomat.  She marries Raymond,  but is almost driven mad by the boredom of it all.  She escapes and meets again the love of her life, a young airman with the codename of Lazare, whom she met and loved for a single night, but never forgot.   Their second encounter was a disappointment; they got drunk, made love, and he left …. again. 

For me, the play hinged around two vignettes:  Susan on a radio panel was asked why she fought in The Resistance,  she said she was fighting for freedom, but from her confusion, you guessed  it was not freedom for the French, it was her own personal freedom to do something that meant something for her.  In the other scenario, Sir Andrew, the Foreign Minister, told Susan that in the diplomatic service, it wasn’t conviction that mattered,  it was behaviour and conformity, being able to strike deals with people even when you didn’t believe what they were doing was right.  The British, he said, led the world in diplomacy.    

But Susan was such a liability as a diplomat’s wife.  Deprived of adventure, she became bored and dangerous and could easily spin out of control.  She hated being pinned down, controlled.  She needed the adrenaline rush, the excitement of a one night stand, the joy of shocking people, the risk of flouting convention.  She could not live in the rigid society she found herself in.  She never wanted to be married but was quite willing to invite a stranger to be father her child, but when he became possessive, she loaded her pistol and fired at him.  Raymond  was devoted to her, but she set about destroying his carefully ordered life. 

Was she mad?   Well, she was impulsive,  incompletely socialised and at times out of control.  She  didn’t fit in, she needed the freedom to express herself.  But she wasn’t deluded;  she appeared more aware of what was going on than those around her, only they didn’t dare to speak their minds.  Her analysis of the Suez fiasco was penetrating and accurate and had the power to shock and embarrass.  Her assertion that the foreign office was sidelining Raymond was absolutely correct.   Even her assessment of their marriage was devastating in its truth.  But Susan dared to say what others only thought and therefore she had to be suppressed.   Her behaviour could not be tolerated. 

We are not told why Susan had such a desperate need for thrills and excitement, why normal conventions bored her to destruction, why she said what she thought.  Was her psychic development forged by a parent, probably her father, who excited her with thrills and indulged her sense of adventure, but never wished to rein her in?   Did she spend her life seeking for that father; what he represented?  Was that her blessing  ….. and her tragedy?   

‘Plenty’  (1985) by David Hare, starred Meryl Streep, Charles Dance, Tracey Ullman, Ian McKellen,Sam Neill, Sting and John Geilgud.   The play was part of the recent David Hare season at the Crucible but I had missed it. 

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