David Hare gets in first with his coronavirus monologue Beat The Devil at the Bridge Theatre, evocatively performed by Ralph Fiennes
“I don’t have survivor’s guilt. I have survivor’s rage”
The inbuilt flexibility of the Bridge Theatre’s auditorium means that it was always going to be a contender for one of the first theatres to be able to reopen. And with this season of monologues, headlined by David Hare’s Beat The Devil, it is indeed now welcoming back socially distanced audiences with a remarkably smooth and efficient FOH operation that should put most any worry at ease.
And rather than go for escapism, we’re in full-on mask-wearing reality as Hare dramatises his experience of contracting Covid-19, exploring the sickness not only of his own body but in the governmental response. The result is an intermittently affecting blend of personal struggle and political outrage.
Given the speed with which it has arrived in a theatre, it is perhaps unsurprising that there’s nothing too sophisticated about Beat the Devil. Its prose is straight-forward, its target clear-cut but at the same time, there’s a pleasingly sharp edge to its humour as Hare tears strips off minister after minister.
Nicholas Hytner goes for a pared-back production, which feels prudent if not necessarily the most exciting. There’s an elegance to Gareth Fry’s sound and George Fenton’s brief musical interludes but Hytner is undoubtedly guilty of under-utilising Bunny Christie’s design in favour of simply moving Fiennes from in front of a desk to the side of a desk and back again.
Playing off the rumpled academic aesthetic, Fiennes does his best to enliven the sections of the text that feel a little research-heavy (you’ll know more about oxygen saturation than you did before…) and is at his best in the finer details of the more personal touches, particularly regarding his relationship with his wife.
Ultimately, Beat the Devil does just about everything you’d expect a David Hare monologue to do and to be frank, if that’s not for you, then the Bridge have helpfully programmed lots more alongside it. And even if it doesn’t necessarily get the heart racing, there’s something comforting in its blandness and also in its delivery model which could hopefully mark the beginning of more theatres being able to open across the UK.