(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/3.)
It felt rather like the old days: a play at the Royal Court on an urgent political issue that clearly inspired its audience. Given the letter signed last week by 119 councils of all parties attacking Westminster centralisation, Jack Thorne’s play about local authority cuts could not be more timely: what is equally important is that it entertains even as it offers a call to arms.
Thorne sets the action in a working-class town where the Labour council must cut £22m from its budget. But the virtue of his play is that it shows what this means in reality. Hilary, the pragmatic council leader, proposes equal misery for all. Mark, her deputy, is a thwarted idealist who fights for the library, the museum and street lighting. But the excrement really hits the fan over the closure of a day centre for adults with learning difficulties. Gina, Mark’s ex-partner who runs the centre, organises a petition that becomes national news and embarrasses both the local authority and the Labour party. The big question is: what can be done?