Following his critically acclaimed Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court in 2016, award-winning playwright David Ireland’s The End of Hope drops its anchor at the Soho Theatre for a month-long run. Co-produced by the Orange Tree Theatre, Ireland’s dark comedy explores modern relationships, particularly in instances surrounding the need for technological agency. Directed by Max Elton, the two-hander feels like the dramatic representation of a magnet. One ‘north’ and one ‘south’ character fornicate and interact within an invisible magnetic field, attracting and repelling one another as the narrative endures.
Designed by Max Dorey, the setting adds to this sense of magnetism. A lampshade is suspended above a spherical bed, complete with a pale rose-coloured duvet and a glossy pink quilt. The action takes place on and around the bed frame, forever drawing in and then expelling the pair onto an undesirable beige carpet. Settled on a thrust stage, Janet (Elinor Lawless) and Dermot (Rufus Wright) begin on a climax. The duo engages in casual sex, checked boxer shorts decorate Dermot’s ankles, and it isn’t until the lights come up that Janet’s full-body mouse costume and mask become fully identifiable.
Polar opposites are already ingrained within their environment – pink, blue, feminine, masculine, playfulness, modesty, animal and human. However, further conflicts of interest present themselves in the form of post-coital quarrelling, quickly proving to be both outrageous and hilarious. Wright and Lawless execute their delivery and comic timing perfectly, negotiating Ireland’s witty yet objectionable script with care. Discussions of Channel 4 and ITV evolve into racial slurs, giving way to left-wing politics and then mindless homophobic remarks. Sharp inhalations melt into uncontrollable spouts of laughter as Janet and Dermot fall in and out of difference and indifference. Sex seems to be their only defining commonality until the surfaces of both characters fall away to reveal a beautiful woman with low self-esteem, and a famous would-be-gentlemen on an ego trip.
Janet’s mouse costume provides the production with a surreal quality. Not only does her disguise take on a divine significance, but it also lends the tryst a dreamlike (or nightmarish) ambience. Despite the dark humour surrounding her reasons for wearing it, the deeper necessity to wrap herself in grey fur and whiskers is that she feels like vermin. This essential feature of the story was touched on so briefly that it denied any real character development, which could be explained by Ireland’s continual use of paradox within his dialogue. As a result, the end of the play sees truth and lie merge into a mass of opportunity and interception so that the narrative cannot progress any further.
Nonetheless, the production was an unexpected novelty and received an enthusiastic reception upon its conclusion. Its subject matter is raw and complex, and despite its title, finishes with a flicker of optimism. The End of Hope makes for an intriguing experience and somehow manages to remain intelligent, offensive and relatable in complete simultaneity. Quite the achievement.
The End of Hope is playing at the Soho Theatre until November 11. For more information and tickets, see www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/the-end-of-hope/