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Obedience, Struggle and Revolt, by David Hare

Angry older man

Sometimes, in this collection of eight public lectures and shorter pieces, he can be wrong-headed. When most of the theatre community is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Hare dares to argue it's not as good as John Osborne's 1956 debut, Look Back in Anger. You can't help admiring the sheer perversity of this parochialism.

Hare devotes two chapters to Osborne. Full of genuine admiration, impassioned wit and a real feeling for Osborne's life and art, these pieces are among the most wonderful things that one playwright could say about another. And while Hare has a combative air reminiscent of the original Angry Young Man, his book covers a life-enhancing variety of subjects, from autobiographical anecdotes to bruising polemic, taking in verbatim theatre, the urge to fabulate, his memories of the cultural critic Raymond Williams, the film-maker Alan Clarke, his fellow-playwright Harold Pinter, the poverty of journalism, the politics of railway privatisation, matters of faith - and the Iraq war.

He starts by defending the lecture against the trendier panel discussion, arguing for the paradox that listening to one person speak is more democratic than everyone talking. But, and here comes the irritant, Hare says he declined to give the 2004 Richard Dimbleby lecture because the BBC asked him in advance what he wanted to talk about.

If his idea that the BBC's request is a good example of "the prevailing cowardice of our great national broadcaster" is absurd, one of Hare's best performances is a lecture that addresses a gathering of the media great and good, then excoriates them for peddling superficial television and unimaginative journalism.

But Hare is not always convincing. One 1996 lecture bemoans the lack of new plays, or rather "enough good writers", at the very time when a whole new generation led by Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill was once again putting thrilling plays on the cultural agenda. Not to have recognised their work as precisely the rallying-point he called for is evidence of a man seriously out of touch.

Still, in a cynical age, the really exciting thing about this compelling book is its open enthusiasm, its intelligent questioning and its fundamental bravery. It is well written, full of passionate energy and completely unafraid of grappling with ideas and mocking the cant of the day. Long may Hare care enough to write like this; long may he irritate.

Aleks Sierz is the author of 'In-Yer-face Theatre: British drama today' (Faber)

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