The first Hastings Literary Festival got off to a memorable start last Friday afternoon with a world premiere reading of poetry written by Sir David Hare. The opening event of this three-day LitFest took place in the magnificent surroundings of Opus Theatre, where organisers Marcia Woolf and Sam Davey welcomed Sir David to the stage as festival patron.

Hare spoke affectionately of his birth in St Leonards in 1947, his early life in Dane Road, and his fifties upbringing in Bexhill-on-Sea. Hastings & St Leonards, along with Bexhill, felt like ‘cultural deserts’ in those days, he told the audience, but “the less interesting a place is, the more you want to use your imagination.” That premise certainly seems to have worked for this long-time internationally respected playwright, screenwriter and director.

“Great writers turn a beam on the uninteresting and make the ordinary interesting”, we heard, as Hare talked about his most recent TV drama, Collateral, which broke viewing figures on BBC2 earlier this year. “It’s a series about people living on the margins and seeking to subsist – everybody is equally interesting.” With over thirty plays and more than twenty-five films for television and cinema under his belt, this writer is clearly interested in everything and everyone, and I would definitely class him as ‘great’ by his own definition. When he divulged that his new play opening at the National Theatre in October features a scene set in our own Warrior Square, the audience let out a cheer. Any of us living locally will know that Warrior Square is always interesting.

A further coup for Hastings LitFest, apart from premiering Hare’s poetry, was to hear it read by the elegantly imposing figure of prolific and eclectic film actor, Julian Sands. A close friend of Hare’s, Sands began by explaining the intimacy of these poems. We had already heard from Hare himself how for years he never shared them, but to celebrate his seventieth birthday he commissioned a private printed edition for family and friends. Sands explained that the work was dedicated to, and mainly inspired by, Hare’s wife of twenty-six years, the fashion designer and sculptor, Nicole Farhi.

The poetry instantly filled the theatre – a 700-seater Grade II-listed church, if you don’t already know – beginning with a journey south through France evoking both self-insight and new insights into the one you have, or will, come to love. A further poem describes self-criticism and a world around the writer feeling like ‘a slum of injustice’. There are more paeans to Nicole, and the idea of fatalism – when we know from a first meeting that this person will help form our future life – is beautifully expressed.

Julian Sands reads David Hare

As Julian Sands continued reading, his delivery became fittingly more emotive. We heard of Hare’s Freudian reflections, self-deprecation and self-questioning of ‘a personality I’ve never quite been able to trust.’ But this love story with observing the ordinary to make it interesting, writing it all down to share with the world, and, of course, with his wife and soul partner; resolves itself through these words of Sir David Hare’s poetry: “Mr Do-Everything-Wrong is about to become Mr-Do-Something-Right.”

What a treat to hear such a celebrated writer of other’s stories bare his soul and share his own story. As we frequently say on the Dirty South Coast: Only in Hastings!

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