After a successful run of the hit Let the Right One In, expectations were high when Jack Thorne (writer) and John Tiffany (director) teamed up once again for the production of Hope. The BAFTA-winning writer Thorne delivered a story of austerity with surprising levity and wry humour.
Hope tells the story of a Labour council in an unnamed working-class town. The play centres on the various schemes local council leaders make after being told they must make £64 million savings over a three-year period through budget cuts.
One council leader, Hilary, (played by Stella Gonet) with her strict and pragmatic approach, proposes important cuts to urban facilities such as libraries, museums, and street lighting. The second council leader, Mark (Paul Higgins), tries to defend Hilary’s decisions. Still short of making their goal the cuts eventually hit a centre for adults with learning difficulties. This decision becomes national news and the small working-class council is left humiliated.
Through Mark’s character (Paul Higgins), a man who is struggling with the consequences of his divorce and suffering from alcoholism, Thorne manages to juxtapose complex decisions of political life with obstacles and anxieties in private life. This juxtaposition exposes how there is little difference, in some ways, in how politicians make decisions publicly and privately. In both spheres, we fear we will fail to achieve our goals or live up to expectations, on the one hand, and on the other, we find the strength to fight for our goals.
The conversation between Mark and the ex-leader George (Tom Georgeson) is where Throne wants us to reflect on the Labour party’s role in the recent past and how today there is a lost sense of solidarity. Throne demonstrated a dynamic ability by portraying both negative and positive aspects of the party. He concluded this scene with a pinch of optimism and strong sense of purpose, driving the message that one should make good decisions not for the Party, not for the country, not for the working class, but for the town.
The play ends with an informal chat between an elderly George and the young Jake (Tommy Knight). This is an encounter between different worlds and different experiences, yet ends on a point of agreement in their understanding of Dickens’ book Great Expectations. Hilarious and intense, this conversation’s common ground also summarises the play: it’s sort of pointless not trying. I admire Thorne’s sense of lightness and humour and Tiffany’s ability to convey this fully whilst leaving us with a sense of hope, especially in life itself.
Hope runs until 10 January. Tickets: (£12- £32; Mondays all seats £10)
Venue: Royal Court Theatre (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs), London