Faith, Hope & Charity

Alexander Zeldin
National Theatre
Dorfman Theatre (National Theatre)

Cecilia Noble (Hazel) Credit: Sarah Lee
Alan Williams (Bernard) Credit: Sarah Lee
Susan Lynch (Beth) Credit: Sarah Lee

Nobody could accuse Alexander Zeldin of writing upbeat plays. Instead, he is currently the ultimate chronicler of British society’s underclass today.

The final play in his gritty perceptive trilogy gives the impression of being reality theatre, presenting a fly on the wall vision of a group that are not so much losers as lost. Even so, as one of the characters bravely points out, “there is always someone worse off”.

The 2 hours 20 minutes long evening takes place in a Natasha Jenkins-designed dilapidated drop-in centre / food kitchen. From the start, it is underfunded and threatened with closure. However, the centre is efficiently run by Celia Noble’s kind, devoted Hazel, with enthusiastic assistance from Nick Holder playing choirmaster / dogsbody Mason, himself only a step or two from the situation of those that he is trying to help.

The visitors that they welcome present a broad cross-section of the (non-)working class today in terms of both age and background.

Alan Williams is absolutely brilliant as confused, ageing Bernard, calm on the surface but raging beneath. He is the kind of diffident man who one sees wandering around the streets looking lost but, on rare occasions, also shouting at the heavens.

Perhaps the most troubled pair are Beth and her son 16-year-old son Marc, respectively played by Susan Lynch and Bobby Stallwood. Irish Beth has lost her five-year-old daughter, Faith, and is desperate to get her back from foster parents, although a series of insuperable problems mean that a much more likely outcome is adoption.

Elsewhere, the company is made up of hapless, occasionally happy immigrants, one of whom is a young Muslim girl able to bring smiles to everybody’s faces. There is a man who should clearly be in care and others who come and go literally aimlessly.

All of them are consumed by guilt imposed by society rather than wrongdoing to the extent that the most popular word in their collective vocabulary is “sorry”.

The strange thing is that while we are watching hopeless individuals desperate to escape their troubled lives and completely unable to do so, the evening is imbued with much-needed humour, demonstrating that even those in dire straits can sometimes see the funny side of their own and others’ plight.

As with his previous play Love, Alexander Zeldin, who directs a stupendous cast himself, presents what feels like a chillingly authentic depiction of the kind of people who do not normally end up on a stage and are likely to find themselves patronised by TV soap operas.

Anyone seeing Faith, Hope & Charity must surely recognise that it is time for us all to demand change so that the iniquities shown on stage become as much a part of history as the Victorian workhouses.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher