Theatre review: Only Forever at Hope Theatre

Only Forever at Hope Theatre. Picture: Megan Burrows

Only Forever at Hope Theatre. Picture: Megan Burrows - Credit: Archant

This tense, unsettling psycho-drama set in a wartime bunker, says David Winskill.

Islington’s Hope is not the biggest theatre in London. A room above Upper Street’s Hope and Anchor, police sirens and street noises percolate through its blacked out windows.

Directors usually maximise the performance space by jamming the audience against the walls but designer Ben Eggleton has chosen to further condense the area by placing seating in the actors’ space. His sparse set perfectly captures and creates the claustrophobia of a family living for years in this bunker. There has been an unspecified war, bombs have dropped and the family are grateful to grandfather for preparing for the worst.

There is something of 1940s BBC Light Service about George, wife Margaret, chirpily optimistic Uncle Mack, and children Victoria and Charles. Perfect diction, meticulously enforced manners, father at the head of the table.

The mood changes as Margaret questions the heartiness that George engenders in their cocooned world. She is on the edge and, as a third child, Robert, is introduced as AWOL from the bunker, the mood stars to darken.

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I won’t spoil the story other than to say it gets very bleak indeed, colliding with some deep taboos and absent of happy endings.

The cast are terrific: Jennie Eggleton and Lewys Taylor (the children) are portrayed as untouched by social media or contamination by TV and consumerism, and have only the faintest memories of life on the surface. Their parents’ depiction of psychological meltdown was brilliant and, despite the grossness of their predicament, cleverly understated with a measure of controlled insanity.

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To be sealed in an underground bunker for 15 years or so would, for most playwrights, offer enough material for two hours of tight, engaging theatre. It is a bit of a mystery why Abraham Arsis not only chose to draw in dimensions from the dark side but to squeeze the action into 75 minutes.

The effect has been to compress the psychological decline of the characters into a binary mellow/manic narrative and leave the audience gasping to keep up.

Nonetheless, this is a tense and unsettling psycho drama with the power to shock.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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