between the lines

Click to follow
"You claim to be protecting some personal ideal always at a cost of almost infinite pain to everyone around you. You are selfish, brutish and unkind. Jealous of other people's happiness as well. Determined to destroy other ways of happiness they find. I'd spent 15 years of my life trying to help you, simply trying to be kind... and my great comfort has been I am waiting for some indication from you... some sign that you have valued the kindness. Some love perhaps. Insane."

Raymond Barock to his wife, Susan Traherne, in David Hare's Plenty

I was at the National Theatre in 1978, doing Bedroom Farce, and I had to go to my dressing-room to pick up a book. The tannoy was tuned to the Lyttelton stage, and as I reached over I recognised Stephen Moore's voice. It was the technical rehearsal for David Hare's Plenty, and he and Kate Nelligan were doing the scene where Raymond and Susan realise their marriage is over. First I stood, then I had to sit and finally I found myself in floods of tears. It was the elusive cathartic experience - enhanced by being so unadorned and unexpected. I felt that - to borrow a phrase from the play - I'd been "moved on". David Hare has a tremendous ability to pick out political ideals in his work, but also a profound awareness of the human dilemma. Everything is packed into that scene. She was a spy in Nazi-occupied France and he is a diplomat. And just as all the hope that followed the war - the promised plenty of the title - has failed to deliver, so their relationship has failed, culminating in this moment. It wasn't that what I overheard reflected my private life. It wasn't a question of identifying with one side or another. But it echoed the great struggle each of us faces just to get from the start of the day to the end. Here's a man who thought he married one kind of person, but actually married another. He's been blind, betrayed by something he hasn't wanted to see, and has nothing with which to fight against that realisation. You know when you read a novel and think, "My God, I felt that." I think that's the purpose of art, and that's what makes Plenty a great, great play.

n Sara Kestelman is in 'Three Tall Women' at Wyndham's Theatre, London WC2 (0171-369 1736). David Hare's latest play, 'Skylight', is in Rep at the National Theatre, London SE1 (0171-928 2252)

Interview by Adrian Turpin