Sarah Lee

This new play, written and directed by Alexander Zeldin, has opened at the National Theatre.

Faith, Hope and Charity is not an easy watch – it’s a warts-and-all portrayal of the realities of living in the new age of austerity, for those who are on the breadline. Set in a dingy, dilapidated community centre, complete with leaking roof, we are introduced to Hazel (the wonderful Cecilia Noble), who cooks hot meals for anyone who may need them. She is joined by new recruit Mason (Nick Holder), a perky ex-con who splits his time between helping in the kitchen and running a post-lunch choir.

Over the course of the show we are introduced to the regulars at the community centre and given an insight into their stories. Bernard (Alan Williams) is loyal to the choir, in spite of his lack of vocal prowess, to stave off his loneliness; Karl (Dayo Koleosho) waits optimistically for a carer who rarely arrives; Beth (Susan Lynch) is in and out of court, fighting a custody battle for her daughter. Hazel works tirelessly to keep her regulars fed and happy while petitioning the council to keep the centre running, with their premises being eyed up by developers.

With the circumstances being so ordinary, and the exchanges so natural, the play offers a grimly believable account of the realities of living in poverty. Yet it’s a bittersweet portrayal – although it tells a sad story, there is beauty in the communal hope that these disparate individuals find in desperate circumstances. There’s a palpable optimism when the regulars share their experiences and some of the exchanges are truly heartwarming. There are also a handful of extremely funny punchlines, but we won’t spoil them here.

The acting is universally strong, although Cecilia Noble’s is the standout performance. While her goodness is the force that keeps the centre open and running, she is never held up on a pedestal. A subtle intonation or sudden disappearance to the bathroom signals her weariness, bordering occasional disillusionment with her situation; we’re also afforded glimpses into her difficult past and her own personal family struggles. It doesn’t make for easy viewing but it’s an incredibly compelling performance.

Faith, Hope and Charity feels like a very necessary play for this time. It doesn’t preach at its audience, instead portraying a series of accounts of those who are struggling to get by, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. It may be bleak, but it offers a fascinating insight into the realities of modern Britain – and it’s full of warmth and humour, too. Well worth checking out.

GAY TIMES gives Faith, Hope and Charity ★★★★☆

More information can be found here.