An insight into The Absence of War from Director Jeremy Herrin

Friends of the Citizens Theatre Headlong return with another fantastic new production: David Hare's acclaimed The Absence of War. Headlong have previously brought productions of The Seagull, Medea, A Midsummer Night's Dream and most recently the sell-out West End smash 1984.  The Absence of War has already been impressing the critics on its UK tour, and it arrives at the Citizens in the lead up to the 2015 general election.

Photograph by Mark Douet
Headlong Theatre Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin (one of the nominees for the Best Director Award at the 2015 Olivier Awards announced on 12 April) talks about staging and touring this modern political masterpiece.

Jeremy Herrin
by Johan Persson

Why did you decide to tour The Absence of War?

It concerns the Leader of the Opposition and his struggle to win the general election. I think it's a very timely play to produce in the build up to the polls on May 7th. It’s a great opportunity to get a big play about politics around the country. Headlong is fantastic at facilitating a national conversation and The Absence of War is an entertaining and insightful look at our political culture and how the real arguments sometimes go missing behind all the presentation. But for all its pertinence, it's an exciting night in the theatre.

Tell us a little bit about the play.

George Jones is the Leader of the Labour Party. He's ahead in the polls and victory is seemingly his. He's smart and charming and inspiring. However hard he tries though, he doesn't quite come across. In the last week of the campaign he decides to go for broke and to speak from the heart, he does so and with surprising consequences. This is a very timely play to tour for a number of reasons including the subject matter and even the suggestion of a merger/possible coalition between two parties.

Photograph by Mark Douet

Is this a good way to bring the machinations and mechanics of politics to the masses?

Theatre is such a democratic and inclusive form that I'd have to say 'yes'. Unlike political discourse which often feels like it's there to score easy points or to avoid saying anything offensive, theatre can pose questions and get 360 degrees around a subject without providing a definitive, reductive message. And it's a great way of being a fly on the wall and getting access to those private conversations. David Hare is a past master at delivering those imagined conversations candidly and with great wit.

Do you think we are also all craving the chance to have a satirical smirk at politics?

The play is full of very good lines and hilariously accurate comic observations. I think to satirise is partly where our power lies, and it's good fun but I do believe that people take politics seriously and I think we wish that our politicians engaged with a bit more depth and honesty.

As well as the satirical element, the lead character George Jones is also quite tragic as well, isn’t he?

Well, without giving anything away, like a classical tragic hero, he's forced to face himself and we see the whole man in all his messy glory. The play goes all the way and offers a moving and emotional climax.

Photograph by Mark Douet

Will the play also make us look at our morals and conscience too as we see the activities of George Jones?

It'll make us consider the world around us, it'll focus our thoughts on our political system and we'll end up thinking what we'd do in George's situation. It's not a play that provides any easy answers or tries to push a simplified message so I think audiences will enjoy being engaged and stimulated.

You have collaborated with David Hare before. What appeals to you creatively about working with him?

Well, he's a great writer. The plays work. Actors love being in them. They are plays that attempt to anatomise our world and they invariably succeed. The Absence of War is one of his best.

Headlong aim to bring risky and edgy theatre to places across the UK. For those theatre-goers who may be a little more traditional, how will you persuade them to give The Absence of War a try?

I hope the play and production will reward everybody, including the traditional theatre-goer as well as those who have enjoyed our exciting work in the past. They should expect us to deliver the highest quality of production as we always do. We're not going to be experimental and get in the way of the play, but we will find a way of presenting it that reveals it to be the fresh, energetic and contemporary play it is.

You can find out more about Headlong's tour of The Absence of War on their website 

The Absence of War is at the Citizens Theatre from 31 Mar - 4 Apr