Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Hare marks wall fall anniversary

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Playwright Sir David Hare is marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall with a 50-minute "meditation" on the German capital at the National Theatre in London.

Sir David Hare with Kate Winslet (l) and Stephen Daldry (r)
Sir David (centre) was in Berlin last week to promote The Reader
Penning the script for Kate Winslet film The Reader has seen noted playwright Sir David Hare land an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay.

It has also inspired his latest stage work - a 50-minute reading of an essay he has written about Berlin, 20 years on from the fall of the wall.

"I'm back in Berlin, and as usual I can't get the hang of it," sighs the author at the beginning of what the National Theatre describes as a "meditation about Germany's restored capital."

Directed by Stephen Daldry, whose work behind the camera on The Reader has also been recognised by the Academy, the piece had the first of its eight performances earlier this week.

"For me Berlin is always cold," says Hare, remembering a particularly chilly visit in 1997 when he served on the jury at the Berlin Film Festival.

'Test of character'

The majority of his observations, though, are drawn from a trip he made to the city last year during the filming of The Reader.

The playwright offers some scathing remarks on the Reichstag's glass dome, which he dubs "Norman Foster's rubber Johnny".

The reconstructed Reichstag, designed by Norman Foster, reopened in 1999
He is similarly dismissive of the recently constructed US Embassy building, which he says locals have dubbed "Fort Knox at Brandenburg Gate."

In the context of this year's awards season, however, it is Sir David's thoughts on the nature of screenwriting that prove most illuminating.

To adapt a book for the screen, he says, is "a test of character" because actors have "two sources of inspiration."

Amusingly, he goes on to detail his frustration about their continual requests for scenes he has deliberately omitted to be reinserted.

Screenwriting, he says, is like a duvet with an ever-shifting lump - "smooth it out in one place and it pops up in another."

'Dimpled stars'

The writer has much experience in this area, having turned several best-selling books - among them Michael Cunningham's The Hours and Josephine Hart's Damage - into award-winning films.

An engaging mix of monologue and lecture ends with Hare recalling how much he enjoys taking the last flight to London out of Tegel Airport on a Friday evening.

Because of the large amount of film production taking place in Berlin, he says, he is bound to run into actors in his acquaintance.

Some of them, he recalls, were in Berlin last year working on Valkyrie, Tom Cruise's film about the failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944.

Whether Cruise is one of the "dimpled American movie stars" Sir David makes a cutting reference to is left for the audience to decide.

Berlin continues at the National Theatre in London until 20 March.

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