Faith, Hope and Charity at the National Theatre: ‘monumentally quiet’ with a strong ensemble cast
Finishing off Alexander Zeldin’s austerity trilogy, Faith, Hope and Charity is a monumentally quiet play. It takes Arthur Miller’s tragedy of the common man to a whole new, lower level, focusing on those in society who have fallen through the cracks and the few individuals (themselves scarred) attempting to offer a saving hand.
Hazel (Cecilia Noble) runs a community centre offering free meals and activities, and Mason (Nick Holder) has arrived to cover the choir. A mixed group of individuals come, such as Bernard (Alan Williams), a homeless older man suffering some form of illness, who is in the same hostel as Anthony (Corey Peterson), a young man with some underlying mental health issues. Also present is Beth (Susan Lynch) who has lost her daughter Faith to social services whilst her son Marc (Bobby Stallwood) tries to put on a brave face in spite of such personal difficulties.
Natasha Jenkins’ set design is superb in its tiredness. Walking into the Dorfman Theatre, it’s easy to think you’re stepping into a community centre in its dying months. Dirty walls, old children’s pictures pinned to a board and a tea and coffee area – all the necessary parts are here. Seats encroach onto the stage, and the actors sit amongst the audience. Marc Williams’ lighting above the stage and audience means the split between the two is never distinguished – we are part of this show, a national story of deprivation, and it’s difficult not to feel angry.
Zeldin’s writing leaves us hungry for more, which is apt given the centre’s focus as a space for free dinners. The space itself is alarmingly real, so when one character observes ‘Fair enough but this is foul’, an inversion of the Witches’s prophesy ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ in Macbeth, there’s little of the otherworld heath present but instead a stained, crumbling building. Details about each character are tantalisingly spread out and revealed through conversation and slight nuances from the actors. As writer and director, Zeldin has drawn every fibre of personality and sadness from the cast, and it’s tragically magnificent to behold.
Noble brings a rasping, weary pragmatism to Hazel but she’s always warm and loving: when she gives Anthony a tub of food one distinctly feels that’s her own lunch she’s giving away. Holder’s Mason enthusiasm offers a stark contrast to Hazel – he is no doubt many of us, who would attempt to enter the system for good only to realise that it’s truly impossible. The rest of the ensemble cast are strong: Lynch especially as Beth is fractured whilst Williams’ Bernard brings a needed comedy to the piece.
At the play’s end, the community centre is closing. The irregular beeps of a carbon monoxide alarm offer the closing heart-beat of the building. Beth’s daughter is called Faith whilst Anthony once dated a girl called Charity. All that’s missing, literally, figuratively and metaphorically, is Hope. Hazel asks ‘You’ve got to have hope, haven’t you?’ One can hope, but more is clearly needed to be done to fix this crisis.
Faith, Hope and Charity is at the National Theatre until 12 October, 2019.
Photograph credit: Sarah Lee.