The Blue Touch Paper
The shockingly funny and brilliant memoir from one of Britain’s greatest and best-loved writers.
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When, in 2000, the National Theatre published its poll of the hundred best plays of the 20th century, David Hare had written five of them. Yet he was born in 1947 into an anonymous suburban street in Hastings. It is a world he believes to be as completely vanished as Victorian England.
Now in his first panoramic work of memoir, ending as Margaret Thatcher comes to power in 1979, David Hare describes his childhood, his Anglo-Catholic education and his painful apprenticeship to the trade of dramatist. He sets the progress of his own life against the history of a time in which faith in hierarchy, deference, religion, the empire and finally politics all withered away. Only belief in private virtue remains.
In his customarily dazzling prose and with great warmth and humour, David Hare explores how so radical a shift could have occurred, and how it is reflected in his own lifelong engagement with two disparate art forms – film and theatre. In The Blue Touch Paper David Hare describes a life of trial and error: both how he became a writer and the high price he and those around him paid for that decision.
But this is, throughout, an invigorating memoir, an elegantly unvarnished tale. It is fascinating to learn that Hare discovered a talent for dialogue before he had written a play. The account of the legendary Portable Theatre Company is absorbing too, filling one with nostalgia for an age when travelling light was easy. And his account of his vain attempts to sell vacuum cleaners in the US as a young man is priceless.
It's an intoxicating read for those, like me, who missed out on the careless abandon and furious optimism of that era, when artists thought they could make art, change the world and have fun (and sex) all at the same time....By the end of the book Margaret Thatcher is in power and the white-faced mimes have turned on David for his determination to write plays that people want to see. But the enthusiasm with which he later leapt at Stuff Happens never deserts him, and infects every page of this terrific book.
an engrossing, authentic and vivid portrait of those long-lost times. ****
Yet Hare's complications help to make this a marvellous read, full of wisdom about theatre, and with a candour about his own bad behaviour that brings tears to the eyes as he risks becoming just another absentee dad as the narrative ends with his divorce and a new government in 1979. Hare knows he's trouble, for good and for ill. The Blue Touch Paper reminds us that he's worth it.
it is an interesting social history....But it will be of particular fascination to anyone who loves actors, writers and directors. The cameo appearances from Bill Nighy, Tom Stoppard and Helen Mirren, the gossipy details of pioneering touring company Portable and of life at the newly-opened National Theatre with Peter Hall, not to mention friendships with Tennessee Williams and Philip Roth (revealed as a one-time regular at the Notting Hill Spudulike), are a delight.
I've enjoyed the book so much, in fact, that I've already re-read great swathes of it forwards and backwards. It's sure to become a classic tale of a life in the theatre of our time.
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