The Theatreguide.London Review
Royal Court Theatre Winter 2014-2015
The fact of life about local government, according to this new play by Jack Thorne, is that honourable and well-meaning people have no power and cannot do the good they want to do. Furthermore, says this despairing play, there is nothing that can be done about that.
The Labour-run Council of a small town has been forced by Westminster to make radical cuts in its budget. But anything they do will cripple essential services.
Closing centres for the disabled or pre-school programs will hurt the most vulnerable, and dimming streetlights will create crime hotspots. Any cuts made in Pakistani neighbourhoods will be read as racist and draw the unwanted support of the English Defence League, and in the age of the internet local protests can go embarrassingly viral overnight.
Torn between their sincere values and the inescapable need for cuts, the councillors simply opt out, refusing to make a budget, forcing central government to do it and the Tories to take the flak. But is that any answer?
That outline could be the premise for a comedy and political satire, and Hope might have been more successful – and certainly more fun – if Jack Thorne had chosen the route of, say, Richard Bean's Great Britain.
But, while Thorne's play has a positive element in its faith that the local politicians – at least the Labour ones – are people of honour, in finding no real way out and not even sure who to blame for the mess we're in, it offers none of what its ironic title promises, and is a quite glum and ultimately off-putting experience.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to flesh out the characters, some are given personal stories – e.g., someone is a recovering alcoholic, a chief protester is a councillor's ex-wife – that never rise above soap opera.
Director John Tiffany doesn't seem to have a great deal of faith in the play as a theatre piece, since he repeatedly fills in what he seems to see as dead spots with irrelevant visuals.
One whole scene is played with everyone onstage incongruously doing callisthenics, a basketball is bounced around throughout another, and set changes are choreographed.
Paul Higgins plays the divorced man as a convincingly well-meaning nonentity, Stella Gonet is the Labour leader you could easily mistake for a Thatcher clone, and Tom Georgeson has one strong scene as an old socialist trying to make sense out of how it all went so wrong.