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Yet another case of life imitating art

A scene from Hope at the Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Jack Thorne’s Hope recently opened at the Royal Court, offering a fictional account of the difficult choices local councils have to make when trying to achieve the sort of cuts that are being demanded of them by central government.

I didn’t much like the play, feeling that though unquestionably worthy, it fatally lacked a dramatic motor. Some of my other daily colleagues were far more favourable, with four stars from Henry Hitchings in the Standard, Michael Billington in The Guardian, Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph and Dominic Maxwell in The Times, not to mention regular The Stage critic Aleks Sierz.

For once, I found myself in the strange position of agreeing with both Quentin Letts in the Mail (who wondered aloud in a one-star review, “Was ever a play less aptly named?“) and Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage who said, “[The play] makes the sound of a balloon deflating at an office party“, just as they no doubt found themselves surprised to be agreeing with each other.

But it was also in the Sunday papers that a different note was sounded from the daily reviews, with Susannah Clapp comparing it in the Observer to Let the Right One In, writer Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany’s last collaboration which she called “one of the most imaginative shows of the last five years”, and stating in her two-star review, “Now they have made one of the dullest”. In the Sunday Times, Patricia Nicol simply dubbed it “a noble failure”.

As ever, I enjoy the Sunday papers as a corrective and balance to premature enthusiasm in the daily papers. But I’m happy, too, whenever a play provokes such seemingly contradictory responses – perhaps there’s more to it than meets the eye.

And so, just a few days later, it proved, when the Labour-party controlled city council announced plans “to slash opening hours, cut staff numbers and spend less on new books” at the spanking new Library of Birmingham (opened last year at a cost of some £189m) that called itself the largest public library in Europe.

The library, according to a report in The Guardian, is both “loved and busy”, but council leaders “said the proposals were sad but vital as the local authority, the UK’s biggest, tries to make savings forced on it by Westminster.”

Council leader Sir Albert Bore commented that the authority had already “cut to the bone” and was now “scraping away” at the bone itself. He is quoted say, “We now need to make £117m of savings next year, rising to £338m by 2017-18. This is on top of the £462m we have had to save so far.”

This could have come directly from Hope. Once again, a playwright was ahead of the news.

Elsewhere, it is theatres that are themselves making news – for unintended mistakes. According to a report in the Independent last week, the Edinburgh Playhouse had to issue an apology after it sent out “hundreds of pornographic DVDs to families and children as young as 10”. It had apparently meant to send recordings of its summer schools for children, but production company Edithouse mistakenly duplicated DVDs that featured explicit sexual content instead.

Of course, it’s a PR nightmare for the Edinburgh Playhouse, especially as the fault seems to lie entirely elsewhere. But even though this story smacks of the plot of a cheap farce, at least no one’s written a play about it. Yet.

Read more columns from Mark Shenton

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