“I hate the theatre. It’s just like the cinema, only with more cunts,” observes Valentine Hanson’s bereft pub landlord, Kenny; a man whose musical loving girlfriend left him for someone implicitly more highbrow in their cultural tastes, now reflecting on this, the final day for The Anchor and its disparate group of lonely regulars.
The cunts attending this show find themselves in a very untheatrical milieu, a working pub populated by realistic characters. There’s the odd sop to the play-loving sophisticates Kenny despises; stage dancing, put-upon barmaid Pearl, vulnerable Bilbo, lonely old boy Frank, and itinerant worker Shaun – reduced to seeing his family on weekends and tempted by Pearl, stepping out of the action to provide background thoughts and laments. But for the most part this is an earthy and well-observed reflection on the death of traditional pub life; not merely the surface world of the working class local, but its role as the functional nexus for all the emotional and psychological wants of otherwise lonely people.
For all the characters in Anna Jordan’s funny and moving play, there’s an understated want for community and solidarity that only the pub can provide. Pearl, whose Mum suffers from mental illness, gets her respite and her ballast from her friends at the Anchor. Bilbo, a stray who’s brokered a deal to live in the flat above the pub, relies on it for sustenance and stability. Some of the play’s best scenes are those in which a heartbreaking Daniel Kendrick desperately tries to give voice to his need to be looked after, hoping the closing of the pub won’t see him returned to the streets. For Frank the pub is both a through line that spans his adult life and the companionship he craves. For Shaun it’s home away from home; another life, a world without responsibility.
Over the play’s two hours you get to know these people like they were your mates from your local, and you fear for them when the bell for last orders finally rings.
Jordan’s play has a lot to say about London’s changing landscape, about the breakup of communities. Not for nothing is it set in 2016, on the brink of Brexit and Trump; a society on the verge, about to fragment. This creeping uncertainty is palpable in the Anchor; the regulars all feel it, their mixed politics notwithstanding. Outside, predatory capitalists and investors have turned Frank’s London – a world he knew as a cab driver like the back of his hand, into something hard to recognise, and for Frank, hard to recall.
The culminating effect of We Anchor in Hope is gratitude for spending time in the company of relatable and flawed characters, mixed with sadness for the world portrayed; a world familiar to many of us, that is passing away. Society must progress of course, but a society without a strong and vibrant community feels as empty and inconsequential as an overpriced and empty flat in an unloved housing development.