My Zinc Bed at the Royal Court Downstairs

David Hare may very well be the most important contemporary theatrical social commentator of the British way of life and the attendant institutions that regulate it, most notably in his fine trilogy of plays for the National Theatre that focussed on the church, judiciary and electoral process.

Lately, however, he has been in grave danger of becoming one of the most self-important practitioners of this kind of documentary theatre, in which characters are merely becoming mouthpieces for the author's own views and have little dramatic life outside of them. Such was inevitably the case in his autobiographical solo account of a trip he took to troubled Palestine, Via Dolorosa, which he performed himself both in the West End and on Broadway.

More disturbingly, this tendency now overwhelms his latest play, the eagerly anticipated but clumsily emphatic My Zinc Bed, which the Royal Court in a rare creative lapse have given house room to under the author's own direction. That, above all, was probably the fatal decision - without the independent eye and judgement of, say, Richard Eyre (who has given Hare some of his best productions, including ones for Amy's View and The Judas Kiss that was better than either of those two plays), the author's natural verbosity - not to say pomposity - hasn't been reigned in.

Two of the three actors he has cast in this intimate drama, moreover, haven't been near a stage in about a decade, which is extremely dangerous given the play they have to carry. And, sadly, they are as unconvincing in the roles as the characters are unconvincingly written.

Julia Ormond (returning to the London stage upon which she began her career before taking on Hollywood where she was briefly hyped as a Julia Roberts successor) is the young Scandinavian wife of an internet entrepeneur, played by the estimable and always stageworthy Tom Wilkinson. She strikes up an affair with the young poet (Steven Mackintosh, another talent whose early career was nurtured onstage but which he mostly abandoned for television) who comes to work for her husband, after originally coming to interview him for a broadsheet paper.

There's not much plot, but a lot of talk, in the course of over 2.5 hours traffic on the stage, much of it to do with Alcoholics Anonymous (both Ormond and Mackintosh's characters have been through the programme), and - a perennial Hare theme - the nature, pursuit and definition of love.

But too much of it sounds like a collection of quotable quotes and smart anecdotes that Hare has picked up somewhere, ready to recycle in the voices of his characters. Likewise their view of the world. The play that contains them feels second-hand and re-cycled, and is fatally lacking in dramatic energy.

Mark Shenton