Posted 20 hours ago

Hope Has a Happy Meal (NHB Modern Plays)

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Although the quest narrative plotting slackens a bit too much towards the end of this 100 minute show, there are plenty of good passages of dialogue, with some lovely humour. Despite Hope’s name, her story is tragic until the last as she leaves a streak of selfish destruction in her wake. Sign up to unlock our digital magazines and also receive the latest news, events, offers and partner promotions. There are some fantastical moments, including a bizarre gameshow hosted by a makeshift Ronald McDonald which doesn’t add anything, and some soap opera drama cliches are thrown into the plot (think Chekhov’s gun) which don’t feel fully earned.

The central image of a quest by assorted misfits who, despite some bouts of bad temper or depression, are shown to be good people (more or less) suggests the play’s politics of small-scale resistance.

While the narrative is strong and as an audience member I found Hope has a Happy Meal engaging and fun, I did struggle with identifying its key messages. But her visit becomes considerably more dramatic after she meets waitress Isla (Mary Malone) – who’s fleeing with her baby nephew from his father, a police officer who she says killed her sister – and a suicidal, soon-to-be-former park ranger, Alex (Nima Taleghani). Hope is helped not only by Isla, but also by a random train passenger, a trucker and of course by Ali. The second half is a skip through the months living together in the commune, dealing with humorous practicalities of keeping a hostage in the basement (someone’s got to empty the bucket), and watching Hope rekindle her frosty sisterly relationship with Lor.

Hope begins atop the set, before descending into the moral, ethical and relationship depths of chaos on the ground level, finally ascending as she completes her journey. However, the play loses momentum when the group reaches the now-defunct commune, meeting Hope’s sister, Lor (Amaka Okafor). With some well-judged cameo characters also providing heightened jabs at the slick emptiness of the service industry, played by the cast in sometimes triple duty (including a particularly versatile Felix Scott), Fowler’s playfully dark humour hits the spot.Disney Quarry, Facebook Forest, and BP Nature Reserve all feature on her surreal, tragic, and redemptive journey via Koka Kola Railways. Early on in the 90-minute runtime, their journey feels like a cross between ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – a sort of fantastical secular allegory for the world we’re essentially living in now. I also like the psychological insights, expressed perhaps most directly in the clown game show sequence, and the drunken episode when Hope and Lor get plastered. The resultant escapade feels part Thelma and Louise, part reverse-Wizard of Oz, and Lucy Morrison’s direction neatly balances the comic beats with darker material, including a nightmarish gameshow hallucination.

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