Star rating – 8/10
When ‘Plenty’ first opened at the National Theatre in 1978, the then Theatre Director Peter Hall, refused to give in to the calls for it to be taken off in the face of terrible reviews, as he believed it was a truly good play by a young radical writer, David Hare. It was later turned into a film starring the wonderful Meryl Streep as Susan, a woman struggling with the unbearable compromises of her life and marriage in the post war peacetime period. And it is revived now in Sheffield as part of a three play David Hare season.
It is directed by the talented Thea Sharrock, whose production of Terence Rattigan’s ‘After the Dance’ at the National last year was a triumph. The Crucible’s Studio Theatre in Sheffield is a much smaller canvas to play on, but again this production is wonderfully handled. Hattie Morahan plays the fragile and unhappy Susan with enough roundedness to engender a degree of sympathy with her predicament. After her role in the French Resistance in the Second World War, nothing else feels quite the same, or gives her the thrill of living on the edge when the peace comes. It is a highly accomplished performance in this pivotal role, of a character who is hardly out of a single scene in the play. Sharrock employs the clever device of getting Susan to change clothes between scenes in the full view of the audience, which only adds to her vulnerability.
Hare combines the personal stories of Susan and her contemporaries, with the wider post war political context of the Suez crisis and the material abundance of the Macmillan era. She lives on shredded nerves and grows more unstable as the years pass, and is both supported and challenged by her husband, played by Edward Bennett, who has to sacrifice his diplomatic career because of her outbursts.
The play is also a biting commentary on the society which emerged after the war. It is very funny in places and condemnatory in others, but is always extremely clever and highly entertaining. David Hare may not be so young these days, but he is still a radical and his plays still have a message for our times.