In Review

Straight Line Crazy: David Hare’s ‘most dramatically gripping’ play for decades

Ralph Fiennes is a ‘triumph’ as the controversial urban planner Robert Moses

David Hare’s new play is his “most dramatically gripping and politically thoughtful” for decades – and in the main role, Ralph Fiennes is a “triumph”, said Mark Lawson in The Guardian. He plays Robert Moses, the controversial urban planner who shaped the New York metropolitan area for the age of the automobile, and influenced a generation of US civil engineers, architects and planners.

The play focuses on two contrasting episodes from Moses’s long career. In 1926, he strong-armed New York’s governor Al Smith into approving two giant expressways linking the city to Long Island. Then, in 1955, he failed in his attempt to put a road through Washington Square Park. It sounds dry, but the play “crackles” with “dynamic, ideas-driven dialogue” about the duel between elected and unelected power.

I am afraid that crackle is exactly what is missing, said Clive Lewis in The Times. Straight Line Crazy is an “uneven and often didactic play held together by a compelling, larger-than-life central performance”.

Fiennes is indeed “terrific” as the megalomaniacal “highwayman of a town planner”, said Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail, but the play is oddly disjointed. In the first half, there’s a gripping long scene (“30 minutes of Hare’s greatest writing”) in which Danny Webb is on “blistering” form as Smith. Alas, the second half “dwindles into more of a critical essay”, with no similar visceral antagonist to drive the action.

What action, asked David Benedict in Variety. The play consists of long discussions – “energised by hard-working actors” – but almost “nothing happens”. And Hare is “painfully reliant on exposition”: right up to the end, characters are “explaining things to people who already know what they’re being told, so as to inform the audience”.

In place of drama, Hare gives us a series of “verbose and largely static Ibsenite confrontations”, said Sam Marlowe in The i Paper. Nicholas Hytner’s staging is “predictably deft and tasteful”. But it’s “all, frankly, a bit boring”.

Bridge Theatre, London SE1. Until 18 June

Recommended

A weekend in Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne Bridge and the River Tyne in Newcastle
The big trip

A weekend in Newcastle upon Tyne

Properties of the week: dreamy Italian homes for under €1m
Six gorgeous homes
The wish list

Properties of the week: dreamy Italian homes for under €1m

Nato’s renaissance: how the world’s most powerful military alliance has taken centre stage
Long table of men at Nato summit
In Depth

Nato’s renaissance: how the world’s most powerful military alliance has taken centre stage

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?
Students protest anti-abortion measures
Talking point

Curtailing abortion rights: will Republicans rue their victory?

Popular articles

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?
Vladimir Putin
Why we’re talking about . . .

Is Vladimir Putin seriously ill?

Inside Adelaide Cottage: the guesthouse tipped to be Prince William and Kate’s new home
William and Kate
In Depth

Inside Adelaide Cottage: the guesthouse tipped to be Prince William and Kate’s new home

Caroline Watt: where is Rebekah Vardy’s missing agent?
Rebekah Vardy arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice
Profile

Caroline Watt: where is Rebekah Vardy’s missing agent?

The Week Footer Banner