Hope

Jack Thorne
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Nisha Nayar, Stella Gonet, Paul Higgins, Sharon Duncan Brewster and Rudi Dharmalingham Credit: Johan Persson
Paul Higgins and Tommy Knight Credit: Johan Persson
Stella Gonet and Rudi Dharmalingham Credit: Johan Persson

It might not sound like that much of a compliment but in writing Hope Jack Thorne, with the assistance of director John Tiffany, has attempted to reincarnate the spirited political theatre scene that fizzled out at the end of the 1980s.

Along with James Graham, Thorne writes passionate plays about politics of the kind that brought amongst others the Davids, Hare and Edgar to the fore.

Like them, the younger writers rage against the dying of the left wing light as all parties tend towards the centre.

The drama starts in February of this year, advancing in dramatic leaps and bounds to very literally the present day i.e. opening night on opening night.

Where Graham followed MPs in This House, Hope is set amongst their third class equivalents, the ruling Labour Councillors in an unnamed town suffering from more than its fair share of urban decay.

Led by Stella Gonet's patrician Hilary, they are faced with finding £22m of cuts in each of the next three years, having pared every budget to the bone already.

During a truly gripping first half, the protagonists try to find services that can be reduced or eliminated without too much fuss, knowing as they do so that their task is impossible.

At the centre of the evening is Paul Higgins playing deputy leader Mark, who seems to have close relationships with almost all of the key players.

He is sleeping with a younger colleague, Sharon Duncan-Brewster's Julie, used to be married to the biggest thorn in the Council's side, Gina played by Christine Entwisle, and is father to the wisest 16-year-old who ever held forth about life, the universe and everything.

Tommy Knight shows prodigious abilities in the latter role as an omniscient youngster who has all of the makings of a top politician of the future.

As if that weren't enough, Julie happens to be the daughter of Tom Georgeson's George, the former Council leader and a straight-talking man who understands politics better than anyone currently in office.

The pleasure in this play lies in its desire to tap into numerous contemporary zeitgeists. When her day care centre is threatened with closure, Gina not only creates an online defence movement that goes spectacularly viral but enlists the assistance of everyone up to the leader of the parliamentary opposition.

Inevitably, that pays off but at the cost of a race war when an allocation for local services used by the Muslim community is cut to fund the difference.

In true 1980s fashion, following the Liverpool precedent, the Council rebels against the government in a gesture that is ultimately self-defeating and pointless but shows the kind of heart that we all thought politicians had lost a generation ago.

Having set off at a gallop, the 2¼-hour-long drama loses a little of its focus in the last 45 minutes but remains well worth a visit for its razor sharp insights into politics today on both a national and local level.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher