FringeReview UK 2017
The End of Hope was in fact written before David Ireland’s astounding Cyprus Avenue premiered at the Royal Court in 2016. Director Max Elton keeps it pacey. Max Dorey seems to specialise in stripped sets in small spaces; he also provided that mouse suit. Stuart Burgess’ lighting evokes those sad pads for one. Richard Bell’s sound blasts us at the start. Till November 11th.
So a giant mouse-suit is going for it on top of a middle-aged poet, as we find out. His mission is to find out why this anonymous-encounter woman is wearing it, whether she really has killed her husband with a larger-than-usual courgette, and as an ITV watcher to his Channel 4 virtue-signalling, get her to admit Blair’s a war criminal. After his Cyprus Avenue, David Ireland’s The End of Hope suggests that after much comedic banter someone’s going to be whacked. Premiered at the Orange Tree in July it’s reprised now in partnership with the Soho Theatre, where it plays till November 11th.
It’s a dark enough comedy. But this isn’t Cyprus Avenue; The End of Hope was in fact written earlier. We’re still in Belfast. Dermot’s an ex-Catholic current poet whom devastatingly Janet – it’s a long time before he finds her name out – has never heard of. Or those he’s associated with. Could this be refreshing? In a dialogue every bit as weird as Cyprus Avenue, the 2016 drama propelling Ireland to the front rank of dramatists, we’re treated to situations not so far from believing your granddaughter’s really Gerry Adams reborn even when he’s still alive.
Max Elton keeps this pacey and linguistically as throwaway as running gags; like Janet’s ripostes about men protesting wrong (mouse) holes. That kind. With just a single bed and pink eiderdown, Max Dorey seems to specialise in stripped sets in small spaces – he’s designed two current plays at the Arcola (he also provided that mouse suit) – and Stuart Burgess’ lighting evokes those sad pads for one. Richard Bell’s sound blasts us at the start so no-one needs to simulate orgasms, but the music leaves us in no doubt of the pratfalls lurking.
The title’s ostensibly bleak. The End of Hope itself is Dermot’s title poem of his most famous collection, on the school syllabus: poetry matters a bit more in Northern Ireland. Janet though doesn’t read poetry and lets Dermot know it, or is she just being defensively annoying? Elinor Lawless makes enormous capital from her muffled refusals and then something very different. Throughout she infuriates and evokes an almost shuddering tenderness.
Rufus Wright’s desperate forty-something liberal probes for right opinion, just as he knows he’s not being open, and as Janet knows she can be anyone she likes if she doesn’t take that mouse head off. Because she feels she’s ugly and God has helpfully suggested the mouse suit. If Dermot feels the need to confess and take public stands, Janet claims privacy and anonymity. Ireland sketches in recognizable cultural reflexes but the characters aren’t stereotypes.
It’s Janet who punctures Dermot’s bleeding-heart oratory with the naiveté of the blinding obvious: ‘Everywhere in the world where there’s a war about religion, two people from each side should have sex. That would bring world peace. We should literally make love and not war.’
Dermot’s not as strident as he pretends, even when things threaten to suddenly take the darkest turn. Wright’s ability to switch from liberal reasonableness to strident bigotry is worryingly fine. Ireland exhibits dangers lurking he’s elsewhere released, and you’ll never feel quite safe with him.
Janet and Dermot don’t feel safe with each other either. This was meant to be a sexually gratifying one-night-stand. And now, as Dermot makes confessions, tries to leave, demands Janet removes her head and at one point reverses gear and acts in a terrifying way, you realise how desperate, perhaps wonderful their situation might become.
Hours before this reviewer saw another two-hander encounter at the National’s Dorfman. This was David Eldridge’s Beginning, a wincingly heartwarming play, carrying a similar burden. Such synchronicity suggests we need such work. The End of Hope is anything but what its lugubrious poetic title advertises, cackling with jokes and expletives. Or perhaps the end of hope might be fulfilment. Either way, this superb hour-long play is more than the sum of its hilarities, which is saying something. The heart comes pounding through the mouse suit. Do see it.