Saturday 16th March - matinee performance
The Royal Court in Liverpool is currently showing the world premiere of ‘Hope’, billed as both a psychological thriller and a ‘darkly comical love story’ by multi-talented writer, director and actor Scot Williams.
The play centres around Norm, a writer struggling to finish his novel though insisting he does not believe in writer’s block. His housemate, Guy (Rene Zagger) is a constant source of distraction and irritation who questions Norm’s every action and opinion. Their third housemate, Hope (Samantha Womack) floats in and out of their conversations, playfully teasing that she has a secret. Writer Scot Williams makes up the cast, playing Victor, a mysterious figure brought back to the house by Hope who seems to know more about the other housemates than they realise.
The acting is exemplary throughout and Mark Womack is instantly likeable as Norm, the everyman character struggling with insomnia and alcoholism. His real life wife Samantha Womack makes an impression in her surprisingly fleeting appearances but it is René Zagger that stands out the most. By turns playful, introspective and contrary Guy is by far the most intriguing character in the play and Zagger shows impressive versatility and charisma.
There is an eerie, disquieting sense from the start that all is not as it seems and anachronisms in the set and dialogue serve to illustrate this. For example, Norm uses a typewriter but discusses time spent procrastinating on Facebook, Twitter and even Angry Birds. Suffice to say, all is revealed by the ending, however ‘Hope’ is not an easily accessible play and some may find the journey to this point simply too arduous.
Act One in particular is dialogue heavy with very little action and I felt it needed to end on a more memorable note to draw the audience back for Act Two. Listen carefully and you can peel back the layers and start to get a sense of where the play may end, however it requires a level of concentration that many audience members lacked, judging by the frequent wandering that occurred throughout. The play rarely meets its ‘thriller’ tag and there is never really a sense of dread or danger.
Overall, ‘Hope’ contains excellent performances and is full of intriguing ideas that may resonate more strongly with writers, the nature of whose work is pondered eloquently and thoughtfully here. However it doesn’t quite grip the audience throughout, meaning that the whole does not quite equal the sum of its parts just yet.
N.B. This was my first ever trip to the Royal Court and so I was intrigued to see how the ‘cabaret’ style stalls seating works. It is unfortunate however that it seems to encourage people to move around and certainly at the performance I attended I was disturbed frequently by audience members walking past, whose every footstep echoed throughout the theatre. Also the seating is allocated as you arrive and I suspect unless you are part of a pair you will find yourself sitting near the back more often than not. I am making a mental note to sit in the circle should I attend on my own again!