2010. The Government announced £30 billion pound cuts to welfare payments and council funding crippled by these savage cuts continues to leave public services vulnerable and shrivelled. Meanwhile, as TV saturates us with fly-on-the-wall documentaries gawping at lives of the filthy rich, Alexander Zeldin opted to expose the devastation felt, heard and tasted in the wake of relentless austerity. In his play, Faith, Hope and Charity, Zeldin’s focus is on one community hall as a banner for community halls up and down the country – life rafts to the poor, writes Carolyn Hart Taylor.
Dingy walls, a leaking roof and lacking in amenities, this set could leave audiences uneasy, their comfy seats contrasting starkly with the desperation presented. Such is the power of theatre, reminding us that change is needed. Occasionally a character takes a seat amongst the audience, perhaps a potent reminder that this is society’s problem – telling us we all share the responsibility.
Hazel, (Cecelia Noble), the beating heart of the centre, is battle weary. Resourceful and eager to help, Hazel wades in, but on top of her personal issues she lacks the impetus needed to overcome such high hurdles. Noble oozes with a tiredness reserved for those enduring long-term trauma.
An eclectic bunch of characters enter the hall, their connection is that they are all ‘hungry’. Each of them vie for this most basic of needs, pitifully pulling them into each other’s world. The queueing humbly for food inevitably conjures Victorian era imagery – but this is 2019!
As the cast demonstrate the apologetic nature of the desperate with their endless cries of ‘sorry’ punctuating everything they say, it reveals their internal shame. The audience bears witness to the injustice.
Laughter provides relief from fear, Mason’s (Nick Holder) upbeat nature is like water in a desert, and coupled with his eagerness to help, it’s understandable that those facing threats from social services, housing and any other sector looking to claw back money and resources, manage to unite in their pain. Together they give us a ‘we’re all in it together’ performance and their humanity shines through.
Informed and thought provoking, this is a must see play if you care.
Faith, Hope and Charity is on at the National Theatre, South Bank, SE1 until October 12th. Times: Mon-Sat 7.30pm; Tues & Sat matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £15 – £61. Phone: 0207 452 3000
Photos: Sarah Lee