The Secret Rapture, The Lyric Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Nothing feels as dated as the recent past. So you might think it would not be a kindness to David Hare to revive his 1988 play The Secret Rapture, which is set in the heyday of power-dressing and of the Thatcherite "greed-is-good" mentality.

And to judge from Guy Retallack's dismal production you'd be absolutely right. The mistiming is all the sadder because Hare is now rightly basking in acclaim for his latest piece, The Permanent Way, a deeply incisive documentary drama about the criminal lunacy of rail privatisation.

At its premiere, The Secret Rapture was hailed as a searching study of the way that Thatcherism corrupted human relationships. The original director, Howard Davies, must have done an even more brilliant job than he was credited for at the time. When, however, the play is presented in such an unsubtle revival as this, its crudeness is, I'm afraid, horribly exposed.

Two overtly contrasted sisters are brought together by the death of their CND-supporting antiquarian bookseller father and they come to grief over what should be done for their youthful, wayward and alcoholic stepmother. Hare fixes on a fascinating subject: the potentially fatal nature of goodness as its struggles to survive in a debased society. For the play to work, we should feel ambivalent about both siblings. But the Tory junior minister Marion (Belinda Lang) comes across as a shrill caricature of thrusting tidy-mindedness. She actually shrieks things like: "God, how I hate all this human stuff".

As the virtuous sister Isobel, a partner in a small design company, Jenny Seagrove is the kind of person who leaves you feeling guilty even as she rides roughshod over your sensitivities.

In good drama, topical representation oozes from the characters as naturally as sweat. Here it weighs them down like a sandwich board. It's hard to credit any of the turning points in the plot, not least the sudden spiritual conversion of Marion, after Isobel's murder. Maybe, one day, the time will be ripe again for this work.

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