Last week Owen Jones told a crowd of Labour supporters and students how the left must attach emotions and anecdotes to the uninspiring bread and butter of stats. It’s not enough to just tell people that 1 million are driven to food banks in the UK, the sixth biggest economy in the world. Numbers, no matter how impressive, are a turn off.
Hope was Thorne’s attempt at turning figures into feelings, doing his best to wrestle the cynicism so damaging the left. I later found out in a conversation on Twitter that he was reading Jones’ latest book ‘The Establishment’, along with other members of the cast, in rehearsals.
Near the beginning and near the end there is a moment when the cast are working out. The show’s narrative harks back to the rate-capping rebellion of 1985-1986 which sought to protect the powers of local councils that, though gaining a small concession from Maggie Thatcher in Liverpool, ultimately failed.
Our Labour council tries to do much the same thing and meets with even less success. But, as the title suggests, there’s more to it than a celebration of the disenfranchised and failed.
The play is a response to the nay sayers and jibes of the politically- disconnected, and people like my brother who grunts from the sofa “I hate politicians” but refuses to tell me which ones. It is also a call to arms for those lost in a mire of mistrust and frustration.
We assume our council leader, Hilary, played sublimely by Hilary Gonet, is our enemy, as she cuts through public services without a second’s thought. It is not until later we see the integrity that moves her to live frugally and practice what she preaches. Her cold front a pragmatic mask to get things done.
One of the most enjoyable to watch is Jake, the son of our protagonist, played by Tommy Knight. His sharp wit, arrogance and lack of inhibition reminded me of Thorne’s most famous teenager, Tony from Skins. He is played with a fluency echoing Nicholas Hoult’s too.
A concluding scene is his encounter with George, played by Tom Georgeson, who typifies the disgruntled Old Labour back-in-my-dayers, squatting impotently on a park bench. Jake cuts George down to size: “It’s possible I will have a better life than you. It’s possible the world will be better. Just so you know.” Like George, we are taken aback by Jake’s simple wisdom; we have spent the evening observing the frustration of failed political engagement and ignored yet noble cries for a better world. Now we get the show’s title.
Pairing heavy truths with a light touch, Thornsby lulls the audience into a receptive state so he can fire off stats like “Hart Council in Hampshire, the least deprived local authority – net loss of these cuts £28 per person – while in Liverpool District B, the most deprived local authority – net loss £807 per person.”
Without putting his audience to sleep, he concludes through Sarwan, the young idealist councilor played by Rudi Dharmalingam, “How does that not make you want to tear someone’s throat out?” There are clumpy moments and the characters aren’t the most complex or intricate but this compromises little. Excellent acting masks any script shortcomings. A simple, and yes, a little preachy, message is carried excellently – political engagement is valuable.
Perhaps my own politics make me susceptible to Hope, or maybe it’s my age and naivety, but I walked out into Sloane Square brimming with lefty sentiments. I couldn’t really have chosen a better place to see why. 4/5
Review written by Harry Davies.
Hope is currently showing at the Royal Court Theatre until Saturday 10th January. For more information on the production, visit here…