Review: Hope "A Spirited Assurance That All Is Not Lost"
Jack Thorne reminds us that there's a formidable hunger for political change among Britons once again in John Tiffany's striking production.
"The world's sort of pointless - if you don't try."
Cherished playwright Jack Thorne's second Royal Court offering lives up to its title in suggesting there's possibility for big change in 21st century austerity Britain. We follow the Labour council of a small, working-class town as they go about the inherently damning process of deciding and implementing £22 million worth of local budget cuts. Thorne's latest play is a well-rounded production of powerfully relevant writing peppered with meaningful humor and rather superb acting.
What is immediately apparent though, before any other element of the production, is the awesome attention to detail in Tom Scutt's frankly flawless set design. An ugly 1920's style civic hall, reminiscent of many of those spread across the towns of little England, provides a believable backdrop for a believable story. The dark mahoganies and the yellowed paint of the walls complement the muted 1970's colors of the cast's costumes as a kind of visual reminder of previous eras of financial instability in Britain. The smaller details, however, such as the wilted potted plant, jauntily-mounted fire extinguisher, and a poster designed by local children ensures the set faithfully mirrors the recognisable scenery of such places.
The play itself places a specific focus on middle-aged, alcoholic divorcee and senior councillor Mark, excellently realised in Paul Higgins' performance. We follow the turbulence of the budgeting process in conjunction with Mark's dysfunctional home life, as we do with each of the other character's, though his carries a noticeable resonance with the central theme of the play. Mark is constantly criticized for his lack of strength and courage, and his general 'pathetic' character, especially by his son George (brought ruthlessly to vibrant life in an outstandingly promising performance by Tommy Knight). Mark appears as a pre-epiphany incarnation of Higgins' raucous fire-breathing character Jamie McDonald in BBC political satire The Thick Of It. In Hope, Mark displays a portfolio of personal weaknesses, from his relapsing alcoholism to his cowardice and apparent inability to stand up for himself and his own principles - a sobering image of modern British complacency.
Amid the all-too-familiar news soundbites of racially aggravated violence, an EDL march, and growing support for UKIP, Mark must comprehend the value of trying to make a difference, and restore faith in his tenaciously strong-willed colleague Julie (an inspiring Sharon Duncan-Brewster).
Hope seems to reassure us that there is now a gap to be bridged between the increasingly heavily documented political disillusionment of today's youth and the similar circumstances in the 1970's that Tom Georgeson's retired councillor George so passionately reminds us of.
With the most negligible exceptions of a very few misplaced and perhaps redundant scenes, such as one physical display and some anomalous documenting narrative, Hope proves a wonderfully moving state-of-the-nation piece and an important addition to the Royal Court's season of revolution-themed theatre.
Reviewed by Brad St. Ledger