The opening almost seems redundant, since the Guardian, Independent and Times newspapers have already broken with convention and sent writers to previews.
Official Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington was so disgruntled that he wrote an article in the newspaper calling for previews to be abolished. “The system is clearly breaking down,” he stormed. “The National was hopelessly naïve in assuming it could do eight previews of a Hare play on Iraq without exciting public comment . . . Why not abolish previews altogether? Let the big musicals iron out their problems out of town . . . Let subsidized plays have a dry run in front of the theatre’s Friends . . . What we have now is the worst of all worlds, one in which the public is conned and newspapers launch pre-emptive strikes.”
The Guardian also printed responses from two theatrical leading lights — actor and director Simon Callow and producer Sonia Friedman. Friedman says that “previews are absolutely essential,” but adds that “it’s when [journalists] start passing critical judgment when [a show] is still in preview that it goes wrong.” Callow also defends the previews system and attacks “the pretence, the double-think and the hypocrisy [of] the editorial compulsion to pull the dish out of the oven before it’s cooked.”
The play’s official opening is a tellingly timed date: Sept. 10, one day before the three-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, which led to the Bush administration's War on Terror and its decision to invade Iraq.
Nearly every major character in the Bush White House is depicted in Hare's political work. The full cast includes Adjoa Andoh as Condoleeza Rice, Desmond Barrit as Dick Cheney, Isla Blair as Laura Bush, Dermot Crowley as Donald Rumsfeld, Nicholas Farrell as Tony Blair, Alex Jennings as George W. Bush, Joe Morton as Colin Powell and Ian Gelder as Paul Wolfowitz. Nicholas Hytner directs at the Olivier Theatre, with designs by Christopher Oram, lighting by Paul Anderson and sound designs by Paul Groothuis. The title comes from a phrase in a Donald Rumsfeld/Dick Cheney letter to President Clinton in 1998, which urged America to adopt a new global strategy that should include the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
In a press conference earlier in 2004, NT boss Nick Hytner denied that the play would be explicitly against the war, saying, “It would be a very poor play that didn’t eloquently and passionately occupy both positions.” Unlike Hare’s recent documentary-based The Permanent Way, Stuff Happens is fictional, though based on factual events.
The show is part of the Travelex £10 season, with two-thirds of tickets in the Olivier Theatre available for £10. The show plays in repertory until Nov. 6.
For further information, call (0)20 7452 3000, or visit www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.