The Ralph Fiennes/David Hare show continues with Straight Line Crazy as Nick Hytner exerts his stranglehold over the Bridge Theatre’s programme
“A man who believes that the way you’re written about is as important as what you do”
I guess if you build your own theatre, you get to do whatever the hell you want in it but it’s still a little bit galling to see that from March through to November, the only person directing anything at the Bridge Theatre is Nick Hytner. And in commissioning David Hare once again, there’s a clear sense of reaffirming a clear middle-of-the-road identity for the theatre which undoubtedly makes financial sense, even as it stifles any hopes of creative stimulation.
Which gives you a bit of a steer as how to I felt about Straight Line Crazy. There’s no surprises here as Hare fashions a clunky play out of an intriguing concept and Hytner directs with unadventurous and diminishing returns, creating something which lacks any real fire or excitement, no matter how hard Ralph Fiennes tries (and he really does try hard).
Fiennes plays Robert Moses, a city planner who absolutely transformed New York’s infrastructure in the twentieth century and equally absolutely revelled in the power that it granted him as an unelected titan. The play cuts in at two key moments – in 1926 and then in 1955 – to show how the way he rode roughshod over public opinion was the key to his enduring success, no matter people responded to the way in which he determined he was going to help them.
And there’s something fascinating here, a society that permits and elevates that idea that he knows best and no-one else can say otherwise. But Hare doesn’t flesh out that society around Moses, supporting characters given so much short shrift. And Hytner stages it so passively in Bob Crowley’s design, with little energy or invention injected into the work, ultimately making it quite dispiriting in its blandness.