Hope @ The Royal Court

So this week I’ve been out to see a comedian, and then a few days later, a play. And in an effort to keep this blog fresh, I sat down the evening after the comedian to try to write something about it.

And I’ve realised just how damn hard it is to write about comedians. I mean, what do you say; he came out, told a few jokes, the audience laughed, he said goodnight and buggered off. Because that is basically what comedians are all about. Obviously there are differences, some are funnier than others, some tell one liners, others tell stories with punch lines. But when you break it all down, it is one person on stage with a mic talking to you.

Or to write that last bit again, but shorter; I haven’t been able to finish writing about the comedian yet, but here is something about the play I saw this afternoon, ‘cos plays are easier to write about than comedians.

But first, big thanks to the Royal Court for the upgraded seat. I’d like to think they realise my amazing reviews are so important to their existence, clearly sending hundreds, even thousands, more to their door. Or it could just be that it was a Saturday afternoon matinee performance, a couple of weeks before Christmas, and it just wasn’t fully sold out. No no no, I’m pretty sure it was the first reason.

Anyway…

Hope is, at its most basic level, about a local council having to make massive savings in its budget due to the government austerity measures. Yes I know, it sounds riveting doesn’t it, who can resist a play about budget cuts and local councils. I know I couldn’t. Thankfully it does have plenty of laughs in it as well.

It centres around four local councillors as they deal with the difficulties of how to balance the budget following massive cuts to their funding. So far, so dull. At their heart is Mark, the deputy council leader, a man whose own son thinks he is weak and pathetic, and whose ex-wife runs a day care for people with disability and campaigns against these cuts.

Written by Jack Thorne, who I have now realised wrote the script for Let The Right One In, possibly the best play I have seen in my life, he does have a way with words and manages to squeeze plenty of laughs in-between the political point scoring. The interplay between deputy council leader Mark and his sixteen year old, know-it-all son produce some great moments; early on it appears that they about to have “the sex talk”, at which point the son asks “did you bring props, you know, condoms, a cucumber, maybe you have gone all the way and some lube?”. Crude but played out extremely well and full of humour.

It is clear where Thorne comes from, he has worked with Royal Court before, and right now this venue, like many others, is going through sweeping cuts and having to find new ways to fund themselves. And this play makes no attempt to hold back from criticism of such things. But it does give some balance, showing how to fund one thing will mean a need to cut elsewhere, and the difficulties faced in doing so. I could happily right now go on about the rights and wrongs of government cuts and my thoughts on all this, but maybe I should avoid that if I want people to read anything else I ever write.

While the politics is generally kept reasonably subtle, Thorne does allows himself one moment of preaching to the audience. The father of one councillor, a die-hard labourite, gives a speech to Mark about how things use to be, the solidarity, looking out for others, protesting against the wrongs of the government, doing things because they are right and not because they are popular, all things he feels have been destroyed. It’s an interesting scene and is the only time you really feel the politics is being forced onto you, but as it’s just the one scene, not enough to alienate those in the audience who came for the laughs rather than the politics.

The play runs through the year, showing how the budget is argued out, how decisions are made, and then unmade, how difficult this can be when there really is no choice, whatever they may try to do to protect everything.

It’s not until the very end that the meaning of the title reveals itself. And again, maybe this is Thorne revealing his true colours, his belief in people shining through.

Firstly we see what lies in store for the future, with Mark’s son showing he isn’t as cocky as he previously seemed, rather he is looking ahead, is realising that the world can be a good place, that it’s all about trying to do the right thing, that his father probably isn’t as pathetic as he first thought. And then at the very end, you see the councillors, the ones who have spent so long fighting about the budget, suddenly showing what they are there for really, to help others, to support; to give hope when before there was none.

For a change, I didn’t walk away from the Royal Court with hundreds of thoughts running through my head as I try to analysis what I have just seen. The themes of Hope aren’t earth-shattering, they aren’t going to change any political views of members of the audience. But what you do get is a feeling that even with the state of things today, there is Hope, and that there are people who care, who do things not for personal gain, but for the support of others. And it was this thought that I walked away with, a small glow that perhaps it isn’t as doom and gloom as we sometimes feel.

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