Theatre: The blonde enemy within


JONATHAN KENT'S visually impressive revival of Plenty, David Hare's iconic 1978 play, refuses to buck the trend of casting non-English actresses in the central role. This is a major irony since Susan Traherne, whom the play follows from her idealistic Resistance work in occupied France to her mental disintegration in the 1960s - is supposed to symbolise how England won the war and morally lost the peace. She incarnates the terrible cost, to herself and others, of a life spent in resistance to the shabby compromises of post-1945 society.

In the wake of Kate Nelligan (Canadian) and Meryl Streep (American), we are now given the Australian actress, Cate Blanchett, who recently made such a magnificent job, in the movie Elizabeth, of redefining our perception of another pretty important example of English womanhood.

But the part of Susan badly defeats her. Indeed, if Kent had gone into the project with the express intention of exposing the weaknesses of what now looks to be a severely overrated play, I don't see what more he could have done - bar, say, cast Ms Blanchett's compatriot, Dame Edna Everidge, and subject her to comparably unprotective direction.

The play is full of reppy, smug satire of English diplomatic circles and other national types. The laughter this invites, though, is as repellantly clubby as the ethos it attacks. An actress needs to make you veer between sympathy for and alienation from Susan and her increasingly crazed, driven superiority to these folk. Her performance should keep you tantalised about the extent to which the character is, on the one hand, a victim of post-1945 disillusion and, on the other, a woman whose fiercely brandished wartime memories are a convenient cover for a pre-existing personality disorder: a constitutional inability to tolerate human intimacy except in the abnormal, ecstatic snatches of dangerous undercover work.

A lean, imposing blonde, Blanchett looks terrific in the mountingly chic frocks worn by Susan as she launches into a more and more hysterical psychiatric exhibitionism. But the actress's erratic, wildly over-italicised attempts at a posh English accent give her performance the air of being a parodic sabotage-job on Susan, as do the sudden alarming accelerations into doubled- up unintelligible apoplexy.

This, I'm afraid, is fatal to the seriousness with which one can take the proceedings. It's excessive to the point where you feel that three weeks trapped in a lift with Hedda Gabler would be a picnic compared to a brief drink with this head-case drag-act.

Plenty patronisingly spells out all its potential subtleties. It's as though the author thinks he's the only person in the country equipped with a moderate intelligence. In 1978, the play looked back at Suez and the moral betrayals of the post-war period. Now, from the perspective of another ethically dubious bout of foreign policy, we look back at that looking back. Hare wonders what the young will make of it. So do I.

Booking: 0171-369 1740. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why