Playwright Jack Thorne’s latest show is an alternative Christmas production, Hope, now on at the Royal Court explores the inner workings of local government cuts
Jack Thorne’s previous play for the Royal Court, Let the Right One In, was about vampires. The show is an adaptation of the hit book and film, the production proved to be a huge success in its own right, with plenty of young people drawn to its Twilight-friendly world of bloodsuckers. The show sold out its run in Sloane Square and then transferred to the West End, where it played to even bigger audiences.
Jack is under no illusions that his new play, Hope, which will soon open at the Royal Court, is a harder sell that Let the Right One In. Rather than exploring vampirical teen angst, it is, instead, a dissection of the machinations of local government. ‘While we were working on the Let the Right One In, I said to the director, John Tiffany, that my next play was going to be about local government and he did look at me like I was mad,’ Jack explains. ‘But it’s a story that people don’t know much about, even though local government is within touching distance, and I think that that makes it exciting.’
In writing the show Hope, which follows the story of a fictional Labour-run local authority making funding decisions in the wake of three years of cuts, Jack has drawn upon his experience of working for the local branch of the Labour party in his former home town of Luton. And he says that while it he has been thinking about writing a play on this subject for a long time, now felt like an especially perfect time to do it.
‘I was secretary and treasurer of the Luton branch of the Labour party and I have always been fascinated by local government,’ he says. ‘But what is happening at the moment struck me as interesting. There have been cuts taking place that have never happened in the history of this country, local government has never experienced true cuts like this.’
‘My biggest thing during the process has been to make sure that the play isn’t polemical. I haven’t got the smug answers to the problems presented. I want the play to have a question mark about it,’ he says.
At the age of 35, Jack has established himself as one of the leading figures of a generation of writers that includes James Graham, Laura Wade and Mike Bartlett. He is probably best known for his TV work with Skins, The Fades and Shane Meadows’ This Is England all featuring on his packed CV and he’s also building up a reputation as a fantastic writer for film – he’s currently working on Sandman, a comic book adaptation for director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But theatre is where he first started (his first professional production was at the Bush Theatre in 2005) and it seems likely that Hope, taking its lead from the inventive, bold staging of Let the Right One In, will move his playwriting up to a new level.
‘Writing a ‘big play’ was certainly an ambition with this one,’ he says. ‘Adapting Let the Right One In allowed me to write a play set in loads of different places and do loads of different things and that shook me up a bit. I’ve been trying to write a bigger play for a very long time. Hope is not one long scene set in a room which is what I always used to do – there are lots of scenes all over the place.’
The freedom to write a large-scale, theatrically ambitious play was aided and abetted by the approach of the Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone, who took over the running of the venue last summer. ‘Since Vicky came it has been amazing,’ says Jack. ‘Two plays I loved were The Nether and The Internet Is Serious Business. I’ve not seen a good play about the internet ever and suddenly there were two at once. It’s exciting to tackle the big themes and that is what Vicky has always been about. She’s been nice to work with as a writer, but it has also been great for me as an audience member’
Hope is Jack’s first original play at the Royal Court and, despite the fact he is a multi-award winning writer, he admits that the prospect of his play gracing the theatre’s main stage is one that terrifies him. ‘The Royal Court is like a church for writers because it is the place that invented modern British theatre,’ he says. ‘You want to be a cherished part of the tradition of great writers, you don’t want to be the one that no one talks about.’
Hope runs at the Royal Court from November 26 to January 10. For booking information, visit royalcourtheatre.com
Words by Will Gore