Review of Hope
By Francesca Lafarge
Hope certainly has a fine pedigree. Jack Thorne, its playwright, has many successes to his name including Let the Right One In, This is England, and the TV shows Skins, Shameless and The Fades. The principal protagonists, Stella Gonet (Hilary) and Paul Higgins (Mark) are fine actors and are supported by an equally strong cast.
This is the story of a small working class town, which, much like very many others, is the victim of budget cuts. How do you make the cuts demanded by central government yet maintain the fabric of a cohesive community: the library, the day centre, the old people’s home, etc.? In two acts, with some humour and a little pathos, Jack Thorne’s characters, most of whom work for the council, grapple with the task amidst the backdrop of the vagaries of life; the ageing parent, alcoholism, the truculent but bright teenage son, a divorce, the girl friend, growing up as a minority and the adult with special needs. The discussions and the conversations mostly take place at the local council offices but, where they don’t, the cast moves the furniture about in so seamless a manner as to be completely unobtrusive. John Tiffany’s direction and Tom Scutt’s designs are flawless.
While one identifies easily with the characters (and, as such, they might endear themselves to the audience), they all too easily slip into caricatures of themselves and are therefore less convincing and certainly less appealing. When this happens, one has a tendency to lose interest and the pace of the play, as a result, begins to drag. That said, there are some poignant exchanges, like that between Mark and his teenage son, Jake, as well as George (Mark’s girlfriend’s father and a former councillor), played by Tom Georgeson, and Mark. Sarwan, a member of the large Asian community in the town, is the most likable character: he has an earthiness and authenticity, which the other characters seem to lack.
This is a play about the face of New Labour but it is hard to discern exactly what that face looks like. The cast is a disparate group of characters crafted, one imagines, to represent middle England and, as such, already seems slightly dated. It ends rather abruptly with a somewhat predictable exchange between the youngest (Jake) and the oldest (George) members of the cast exhorting us to have faith in the next generation, which is all that is left to the audience after two hours of earnestness and hopelessness.