The End of Hope, Orange Tree Theatre

Guest post by Oliver Wake

David Ireland’s The End of Hope (previously seen in Glasgow as The End of Hope, The End of Desire – a long title for a short play) comes to the Orange Tree for a short run as part of the theatre’s directors’ festival. It’s an intimate two-hander performed in the round, with a circular bed as its only element of set.

Two strangers have met for an internet-arranged one-night stand in Belfast. Janet is dressed as a mouse. Declan is married. In those awkward moments after the sex they talk and argue, exposing their prejudices, preoccupations and insecurities, building up barriers between them. She claims God told her to wear the mouse costume. He doesn’t believe in God; she doesn’t believe in atheists.  She likes Tony Blair; he thinks he’s a war criminal. She’s convinced she’s ugly; he finds her beautiful. He claims he’s famous; she’s never heard of him. She watches reality TV; he despises it.

Its promotional material gave the impression the play might be maudlin and bleak, but it proved quite the reverse. Ireland’s script is filthy, caustic, and very funny. The dialogue is witty and often outrageous, eliciting a mix of laughs and gasps from the audience at some of its less politically correct jokes. Some particularly vicious humour is squeezed out of the relative merits of ITV and Channel 4. The jokes all land perfectly, thanks to the excellent comic timing and delivery. Indeed, despite the short run, the performances of Elinor Lawless and Rufus Wright are pitch-perfect. Lawless, in particular, deserves praise for managing such an effective performance from within the confines of a mouse outfit, complete with a mask for much of the duration. Director Max Elton shares the plaudits.

Despite its title, the play ends on an optimistic note, hinting that Janet and Declan may be able to overcome the obstacles of self-image and personal differences. The only criticism that can be made of the production is that inevitably for any play in the round, the characters have their backs to a portion of the audience at any one time and this can become frustrating.

Funny, affecting, and perfectly performed, The End of Hope is well worth catching.

The End of Hope is on until 29 July

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