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Hope @Royal Court Theatre

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.

Hope's cast.
Hope’s cast.

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.

Paul Higgins (as Mark)
Paul Higgins (as Mark)

 

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.

Tommy Knight and Tom Georgeson
Tommy Knight and Tom Georgeson

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

 

 

Royal Court Theatre – Adler & Gibb: an experimental journey

It’s worth hanging on until the end of this experimental new play, by Tim Crouch, which examines the idea that “an artist or artefact represents the culture in which it was produced.” A number of different stages of performance operate in tandem: with an obsessed student (Rachel Redford) presenting a thesis on two Warhol-esque artists (the said Adler and Gibb of the title); an actress (the student’s later self) preparing for a movie about the same artists; and some children in headphones – on stage throughout – being intermittently directed by “a live voice they hear through their headphones” to hand out props and the like.  Sound complicated? It is, and the decision to have the actress, played by Denise Gough, and her coach, Brian Ferguson, rooted to the spot delivering most of the play out to the audience doesn’t help to engage understanding or sympathy. Moreover, the physical dissimilarity between Gough and Redford and the range of accents delivered baffles rather than enlightens. As the story creeps forward, the decision to focus on the forensic side of creating art rather than the dramatic side of presenting it seems to be an erroneous one.

But the temptation to dismiss the piece as workshop self-indulgence dissipates as a clever build in the narrative and some sharp stagecraft help to shape an impressive conclusion.  By the end, some kind of trick has happened and a successful piece of theatre has been achieved. Whether you care for the trick probably depends on your feelings for modernist art – i.e. does art that challenges the conventions of art float your boat?

The well balanced cast stick to their task with some commitment – which, taking into account the performance impediments placed upon them – does them credit. Gough certainly captures the unhealthy psychology of an individual seeking fulfilment in the life of another, while Amelda Brown’s Gibb has the right measure of maturity and courage. The inherent difficulties of performance style make it hard to convey much depth and continuity of characterisation, but somehow the innate charisma possessed by the actors helps to achieve a sense of reality. The only caveat is that when it comes to the long monologues, the fragmented, un-dramatic structure hasn’t served to build the customary link between audience and character.  And as a result, interest in what is being said is more tenuous.

And what is being said? Certain themes appear to be evident: the innocence of the artist, the inherent incompatibility between artist and society, the mercenary nature of those seeking to cash in on artistic success. Ultimately there is a sense that the artist’s work is not actually about form or content or creation, but rather the vision to see things differently from the norm. And it is this ability, this singularity that partly accounts for the obsessive interest in artist rather than art – an obsession the artist can only escape through death. But as this interesting piece draws to its close and the theatrical canvass is suddenly displaced with a potent cinematic one, even death doesn’t always mark the end of the affair.

Running until 5th July at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square,  London    SW1W 8AS

Box Office +44 (0)20 7565 5000

www.royalcourttheatre.com