Still in its infancy, the Park Theatre is proving to be a top player in the London theatre network, and with David Hare’s The Vertical Hour currently taking residence, the future looks bright for the small venue. Hare has received extra attention this summer with the critically-acclaimed run of Skylight in the West End starring Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy. The Vertical Hour is as astute as Skylight and, in the smaller Finsbury Park theatre, is able to achieve a great sense of intimacy. Led by a formidable cast, including Thusitha Jayasundera and Peter Davison, the play promises to keep the constant buzz surrounding David Hare in good stead. The Vertical Hour pokes a stick at such heated issues as terrorism, identity and culpability; as parliament was today recalled to Westminster to discuss Britain’s involvement in the aerial strikes in Iraq, these issues are as evocative, potent and problematic as they were on the début of Hare’s play on Broadway in 2006. It seems we still have much to discuss.

A visiting American republican, Nadia (played by Jayasundera), has been chaperoned into a potential minefield by her partner, Philip (Finlay Robertson). She finds herself in Shropshire where she meets the charming, liberal and outspoken doctor, Oliver – Philip’s dad (Peter Davison).  He is passionately vocal against America’s involvement in Iraq, a passion that enables Nadia and Oliver to have long, searing debates about the issue. Nadia unwillingly becomes a promotional mouthpiece for the support of America’s participation in the Iraq war, but Hare’s talent lies in his ability to argue vehemently for both sides. The lead characters are similar in the way they remain static in their opinion; they bathe in their own political juices, washing themselves clean of outside opinion, unable or unwilling to change. Despite their opposing opinions, the two find solace in their mutual sense of dislocation with the rest of the world.

Jayasundera’s wavering American accent is a tad distracting at the opening of the play but, thankfully, she seems to settle into an appropriate American drawl. In opposition to the outward assuredness of his partner and father, Robertson’s Philip is a child wounded by the passionate resolve of others. He is spoilt by the perceived recklessness and selfishness of his father. Unlike Oliver, Philip lacks a certain sense of gusto: Oliver tells Nadia that his son likes “new Dylan”, where as he favours the old.

There is a strict dichotomy in the way that the father and son choose to live their lives. To exist, Oliver must step away from the carnage he has caused and instead align himself with great British poets like Wilfred Owen: it is in this way that he displays a sense of patriotism. Yet Philip must live in the wake of others’ decisions, because he never fully involves himself in the decision making process. He excludes himself from their conversations in favour of comfort, choosing to ignore the childish petulance he embraces as a result. In contrast to Philip, Nadia and Oliver are more likely to be found prodding the beehive.

The play is book-ended with two scenes in which Nadia is frustrated with her students’ efforts with their academic work. It opens with a male student professing to understand Freud after a mere three weeks of study and, while he’s at it, declaring his love for Nadia because she “is a women in the world”. Beginning in this way with naivety, self-assuredness and innocence, the script continues these threads that remain visible throughout. Inter-generational relationships and gender issues also feature strongly in the undercurrent of the play, bubbling beneath the measured dialogue, occasionally spilling over into spoken words.

The Vertical Hour consists of the best material from an intellectual dinner party conversation – one you will definitely try your hardest to hear every word of.

The Vertical Hour is playing at the Park Theatre until 23 October. For further information and tickets see the Park Theatre website.

Photo by TEA Films.