DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

hope is a 4 letter word – Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle

Reviewer: Jon Deery

Writer: gobscure

Director: Ali Pritchard

Hope is a four letter word. As are rage, hate, pain and love – all of which abound in gobscure’s original and eerie play. The relentless poetry of gobscure’s script allows this hour-long, low-budget production to reach out across a massive breadth of complex issues, transcending the small venue of Alphabetti Theatre. The language is sometimes funny, sometimes shocking; always hard-hitting and intelligent. But the barrage of words and sounds often drowns out the human story underneath.

Set in a prison cell and then a psychiatric ward, the play is suffused with edginess and claustrophobia. It follows two characters, incarcerated for very different, and deeply tragic reasons; one of them ends repentant, the other, briefly, triumphant. The themes of industrial sabotage for the sake of the environment, and sudden homelessness, speak (depressingly well) to the politics of the 21st century, and the play always feels urgent.

This is a perspective on life in the UK very rarely seen, and very direly needed, on stage and elsewhere. The poetry, which sometimes devolves into lists of topical political words, matches form with content. The dizzying weight and complexity of the climate crisis, and of modern capitalism, are presented in a poetic style equally frenetic. For the most part, and especially towards the end of the play, this style serves to energise the human storylines underneath. However, some of the earlier segments are more ‘how to blow up a plotline’ than ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’, drifting off into lists of revolutionaries, (g)obscure quotations, and imagery that becomes hard to follow, and even harder to emotionally connect with. The characters are lost along the way.

Director Ali Pritchard, founder of Alphabetti Theatre, has suffused this production with the unique community-led qualities of the venue itself. Part of the set is made up of the products of arts-and-crafts that visitors to Alphabetti have made in weeks previous (although most of this does appear to just be scrunched-up newspapers). Each night, too, an interlude breaks up the main play, and a special guest artist performs some of their own work. On the night your reviewer attended, poet Toni Hurford delivered some heartfelt readings of her own work. Her sincerity and simple, sing-song poetic style was a welcome contrast to the cynical wit of gobscure’s script.

Zoe Lambert and Rebecca Glendenning Laycock, the two lead actors, are wonderful from start to finish. Their bantering introduction to the play, their ability to switch with ease from a complex human character to a comical caricature, and their palpable warmth, help to balance the script’s sometimes too-detached energy. Glendenning Laycock in particular lights up the stage, and the end of her section of the show is by far the highlight.

The show’s moving climax brings together multiple threads and images established earlier, and does so with phenomenal technical mastery and fluency. The wordplay, the natural imagery, the repetition of lines from the start of the show, all work around each other to make a fitting conclusion that is at once deeply cynical and profoundly hopeful. This is masterful art put to the task of conveying an urgent political message, and it works.

For those put off in the first half by the hard-to-follow tangents about Hieronymus Bosch, and the jarring multi-media, multi-thematic multiplicity of it all: retain hope. It does get better.

Runs until 4th May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Potent political poetry

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The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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