The Theatreguide.London Review
Garrick Theatre Winter 2006-2007
Like most of David Hare's plays, Amy's View is never quite as good as you keep hoping it will become. But it is pretty good, and it is the occasion for a star performance that is as very good as you could ask.
The play, first seen at the National in 1997, follows the misfortunes of Esme, an actress of a certain age, from 1979 to 1995 - essentially the Thatcher era, and on one level Hare's play is his view of the true essence of that turning point in British history.
During the play Esme's career goes into decline, her daughter (the Amy of the title) marries a philistine TV critic who builds a career on attacking all art and culture as elitist and irrelevant, and the man who claims to love her puts her money into bad investments that doom her to a life of poverty.
So one thing the play is about is the definitive death of a range of ideals and perhaps fantasies of Britishness, everything from village fetes, through art and culture, to honourable dealings and loving relationships. One of Hare's biggest insights is that the tragic moment is not when these things die, but later, when all fantasy that they haven't died dies.
On the more personal level, the play is about how Esme deals with these reversals, and here the play is at its weakest because, like all Hare's heroes, she is impotent and can only hold the moral high ground by being defeated.
You see that in the big confrontation with Amy's philistine. He does all the talking, actually making his case against art and culture rather well, and Hare clearly wants us to see him talking himself into a hole while Esme wins through silence. But in fact both Esme and Hare himself risk appearing snobs complacent in their belief that their case is so obvious it doesn't need making.
You may be reminded of Chekhov's Cherry Orchard or Williams' Streetcar Named Desire, both (on one level) plays about a lovely but dying culture being displaced by barbarians. But Chekhov and Williams (at his best) are great writers and Hare is only a very good one, and Amy's View never resonates with those plays' tragic power.
It does provide a juicy central role, though, and Felicity Kendal makes the most of it.
In 1997 Judi Dench played Esme in a fairly narrow and generally glum range. But, under Peter Hall's direction, Kendal lets the stops out, fully expressing the character's joy, love, despair, anger, contempt and whatever else is called for.
It is she more than the author who keeps Esme a living person for us to relate to and feel for, rather than a symbol or mouthpiece for his socio-political philosophy. And it is her performance that is ultimately the main reason to see the play.
Jenna Russell as Amy is given little to do but argue occasionally with her mother, though Ryan Kiggell manages to convey that the odious TV guy is not malicious but just shallow, though none the less dangerous for that.
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