David Hare’s experience of being sick with coronavirus and his fury at the government’s handling of the crisis is to be the subject of a play starring Ralph Fiennes as the playwright.
It will begin with performances of a monologue written by Hare, Beat the Devil, which is a response to his experience of contracting coronavirus early in the pandemic.
The theatre said Hare would recall “the delirium of his illness, which mix with fear, dream, honest medicine and dishonest politics to create a monologue of furious urgency and power.”
Hare contracted coronavirus at about the same time the UK government introduced lockdown measures.
Speaking to the BBC in April, he described his experience of the virus, which evolved rapidly and unexpectedly. “One day it would be fever, next day it would be arctic cold, then it would be vomiting, then coughing, then conjunctivitis, then breathing problems,” he said. “Day 10 was five times worse than day five.”
Hare is one of Britain’s most celebrated stage writers and has written plays that are witheringly critical of the performance of governments on subjects including rail privatisation and the Iraq war.
He has been particularly damning of the coronavirus response, calling it worse than the handling of the Suez crisis or Iraq. “To watch a weasel-worded parade of ministers shirking responsibility for their failures and confecting non-apologies to the dead and dying has seen British public life sink as low as I can remember in my entire lifetime,” he said.
Hare continued that “in return for lockdown, isolation, commercial disaster and social distancing” the British public deserved honesty. “They must own up to their mistakes, stop dodging and waffling and start to trust us with the truth.”
The playwright also criticised people who said “courage” and “love of life” got Boris Johnson through coronavirus.
“Those of us who’ve had the virus know you don’t under any circumstances ignore it,” he said. “What helped me survive were pure luck and the assiduous expert care of my first-class GP. Those two things only, not my fabled resources of character.”
The new Hare play will star Fiennes and be directed by the theatre’s co-founder and artistic director, Nicholas Hytner.
Also in the opening programme will be a stage version of the Alan Bennett Talking Heads monologues, which Hytner produced for the BBC earlier this year.
In total, eight will be reprised in a series of double bills starring the same actors: Imelda Staunton, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rochenda Sandall, Maxine Peake, Lucian Msamati, Lesley Manville, Tamsin Greig and Monica Dolan.
Bennett has waived his royalties to help the theatre stage the shows.
Running alongside those performances will be three other monologue shows: An Evening with an Immigrant by Inua Ellams; Quarter Life Crisis by Yolanda Mercy; and Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni.
The theatre said the plan was to reopen the 900-seat theatre to audiences of 250. As a recently built theatre with a large, open bar area, the Bridge is better placed to reopen than most West End venues with small bars and narrow corridors.
It is dependent on the government allowing socially distanced indoor performances, which was permitted until the government paused its introduction on 31 July. It said the delay would be until at least 15 August.
The performing arts has been one of the sectors hardest-hit by the pandemic with theatres and concert halls fighting for their existence.
Most regional theatres depend on the income they generate with pantomimes to help them get through the year. On Monday. four London venues – Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Theatre Royal Stratford East – became the latest to announce postponements of their 2020 pantos.
A show will go on, however, in St Helens where the Theatre Royal announced it was abandoning its production of Cinderella with Linda Robson, and replacing it with a fully socially distanced production of Beauty and the Beast.