Hope (Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London)
Sometimes the best of intentions can turn to ashes in the mouth.
Jack Thorne’s Hope doesn’t go quite that far but his much anticipated blast against the current relentless drive for public sector cuts, though welcome and well intentioned, is a disappointment.
Heaven knows, the case for action and resistance against this government’s grinding ideological obsession with reducing the state has never been more urgent or required. And Thorne, a BAFTA tv award-winner (The Fades; This is England ‘ 88) and author of a dozen or more sharp-eyed contemporary theatre dramas (2nd May 1997, When You Cure Me, Greenland) would, could, just be the man to do it.
But it doesn’t quite turn out that way. Set in an unspecified northern town, Thorne’s slice of contemporary realism takes us into a fictional council chamber where councillors are facing the uphill task of having to cut another £20million or so from their annual budget. Shall it be street lighting, public toilets, the local museum (already run by volunteers), farm, swimming pool, care for the elderly, Sure Start Centres or care for the disabled including their day centre?
None appeal according to Mark, deputy leader, `enjoying’, if that’s the word, an on-off relationship with Julie, another councillor and plagued by Jake, his precociously articulate teenage son with former wife Gina who just happens to also be involved in running the Day Centre for the disabled. Cue an inter-mingling of the private with the public when Gina orchestrates a campaign that goes viral resulting in sharp rap of knuckles from headquarters to bring her under control.
Thorne’s language and observations can be pithy and pertinent. None more so than Julie’s Dad, George – the appropriately named, gravel voiced Tom Georgeson – a former Labour council leader who produces a marvellously bitter, ironic analysis to Mark of the present government’s success in re-writing the framework of public discourse (economic) whilst berating Labour for betraying its best values enshrined in the idea of solidarity. The play is almost worth it for that one moment alone and for the uneasy conversation that develops between Mark and Jake about the impossibly difficult job of parents attempting to monitor their offsprings’ activities on the internet.
All good personal stuff but the problem is that politically Thorne makes it all too one-sided, especially in view of the context of viewing it in the Royal Court whose staple audience could hardly said to be card-carrying members of the Tory party. It becomes a case of convictions being all too easily confirmed.
Even John Tiffany, the Royal Court’s Associate Director and one of the most inspirational and sensitive directors around (who worked with Thorne on the brilliant adaptation of Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist’s, Let the right one in) can’t disguise Thorne’s strangely old-fashioned, somewhat predictable dramaturgy.
Still, Tiffany draws lovely performances from Paul Higgins as the hapless Mark, spurred on to incite council rebellion by both George and Rudi Dharmalingam’s feisty Muslim councillor, Sarwan, from Stella Gonet as Hilary, the crisp council leader and especially Tommy Knight as Jake, avid reader and teenage philosopher.
With the General Election looming, there’s surely going to be no shortage of `political’ drama on view. And this one ends on a surprisingly `hopeful’ note.
It will be very interesting to see if, and how much, of the government’s argument can be hauled into usefully engaging dramatic service.
First pub in londongrip in Dec 2014