‘Our art has a potency.’ David Hare

‘Our art has a potency.’ David Hare

I would bitterly contest people who describe my plays as journalism – they’re not. There’s something beyond journalism. A journalist describes what is there; art is metaphorical – it’s something larger than the particular subject it describes.’

The performing arts have been the opposition. There’s not been much opposition in the newspapers or the novel. The audience want an oppositional play – they don’t care if it’s good or not!

People are more likely to divulge to playwrights than journalists. They know it’s off the record and unattributable. Whatever they say is so deeply buried in the work it’s undetectable. In Stuff Happens people talked more freely to me than to journalists.

Our art has a potency. Reporting conflicts is one of the great gifts to mankind.

On the subject of free speech: you have to use it to lose it. My mother once said: “Everyone’s free to go to the Ritz but not everyone can go to the Ritz.” In this century we all have free speech but only some of us are allowed and will be heard.

If free speech is to mean anything, many voices have to be heard. It means, firstly, diversity: we need to hear from more kinds of people. Secondly, [we need] people who are victims of contemporary practice rather than observing from a lofty high. The number of people’s points of view and experiences seems essential.

I’ve always tried to write about subject matter that other people don’t write about. For example, the process leading up to the Iraq War, or the financial crisis or MI5. What seems important of free speech is it should embrace subject matter we wouldn’t otherwise hear about.

There’s no obligation. It’s just lucky that my temperament meets curiosity about the world. Books are often the same for commercial reasons. Art tends to look inwards rather than outside in the world.

I used to write jokes. But I found a seriousness which surprised me… and horrified my agent! He said: “David, don’t try this serious stuff. What’s so refreshing is to find a writer who believes in absolutely nothing!”’

You cannot avoid the response of the public. I sit among 500 people and I’m disastrously expert at knowing how they’re feeling!

I’ve noticed that some pieces of work become more urgent as life goes by. You often have to wait.

From the English PEN event The Freedom of the Writer

By Alex Masters

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