FIRST NIGHT: Sweet swansong for a partnership

Amy's View

Royal National Theatre

An era may possibly have ended at the National Theatre.

David Hare's new play, directed as so often by Richard Eyre, may be the last in a long series of works by the partnership which has formed such a long and influential chapter in the National's history.

Now Eyre is leaving; Hare has resigned as an associate director and the programme for this play contained what appeared to be a long and loving farewell essay by Hare to the venue he has been associated with for 21 years.

If this was Hare's swansong at the National, it was a brilliant and compelling one. Hare is still often starkly described as a political playwright. But after last night the label seems redundant unless accompanied by the words comic, poignant and searingly personal.

Dame Judi Dench, giving a towering performance, is an ageing actress. Samantha Bond, her daughter, partnered by an arrogant TV producer - vintage Late Show - is convinced that theatre is dead in an age of film and video.

Hare clearly enjoys wrestling with the battle between high and low culture. As Judi Dench's character points out: "It's always the death of the theatre, the death of the novel, the death of poetry ... somehow it's never the death of themselves. The death of television! The death of the journalist! I can't think why we never get those."

The play engages with much more than this, from financial hardship to violence in films. But beneath all these issues are the deeper strains of love and loss, and the relationship between mother and daughter over a 16-year period.

Dench and Bond have a chemistry on stage that enables them to switch in instants from broad comedy to devastating tenderness.

Hare dedicates this play to his wife, the fashion designer Nicole Fahri, with the words "pour toujours".

This mesmerising play will also last a very long time.

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