Saturday, 13 December 2014

Hope at the Royal Court

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We were at the Royal Court to see Jack Thorne's newly penned "Hope".

It's a kind of agitprop story about the state we're in. Big cuts now and then relentlessly on into an oh-so-mortgaged future.

Before the main play, we watched another small workshop style production: the New Order - three newly scripted party political statements - entertaining and thought provoking. The Inner Child Party. The 'Career Politician' Party and the I.G.N.O.R.E Party. It illustrated part of the agenda for what was to follow in the main show.

For Hope we had a northern local authority faced with £66m of cuts to be spread over 3 years. The recovering alcoholic deputy leader had to decide whether to make a stand and we saw the consequences of his actions play out after the intervention of Whitehall spread-sheeters "Sorry I'm late, I had no idea it was so far".

Like the earlier workshop playlets, there was a "can't win" aspect to the way immediate events played out. No-one actually said 'squeeze them in the wallet', but they could have. Whatever gets saved just moves the problem to another equally needy place.

Much later, a counterpoint of 'hope' when the prior-council leader tooted a spliff, whilst the schoolboy son of the current deputy council leader articulated dreams of a better tomorrow.

Well-acted with a strong point of view, I still felt the production needed some improved directing.

In places the script could have been tidied. A few over-signposted moments slowed the dialogue. The staging in mostly a municipal hall worked, but stage direction created a laminar look, reminding me of one of those toy children's theatres with cardboard sliders for the actors to enter stage left and right.

So alongside the action, I found myself thinking this was a slightly under-worked production, which included strange but under-committed surreal moments. Stage calisthenics, random ukulele playing and an incomprehensible piano interlude. It wasn't clear (to me) what this added, because it didn't really magnify the messaging or our sympathies for the characters.

I understand the idea to make serious points without going into a 'Thick of It'/'2012' peep inside the machine. There's the topicality of half of the UK councils not positioned to meet objectives and the inevitable cuts to services.

The elder ex-council leader made good points about the demise of protest since the banking recession. Not quite 'where have all the riots gone?' but along those lines. We need more challenges than televised Russell Brand vs a heavily expensed beer drinker, but somehow the establishment manages the agenda.

Still worth seeing and providing a welcome voice of challenge, it came across to me as something of a work in progress.

A bit like trying to sort out the state we're in.

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