Maggie was born in 8 Hope Place and has lived their all her life. She lives alone, but her brothers and sisters all have their own keys and it has been a family hub for as long as they remember – but of course, what they choose to remember is different for each of them…
The real strength of Hope Place is Michael Wynne’s finely-crafted characters, brought to life by the kind of ensemble it’s easy to believe could be a convincing family unit off stage as well as on. They make for an instantly recognisable Liverpool clan, from Eileen O’Brien’s self-sacrificing mother-figure to Emma Lisi’s young Scouse bird.
Joe McGann’s lived-in face lends itself perfectly to affable, hard-working Jack; you can imagine the smell of perfume and smoke on Tricia Kelly ‘s straight-talking Veronica; and Neil Caple gives a textured performance as gruff youngest brother Eric. Ciaren Kellgren is the scholar who comes to uncover their every day working class family (“Oral history? That’s disgusting,” quips Jack), and in the process inadvertently rakes up the skeletons in the closet. Alan Stocks and Michelle Butterley are on hand to enact a number of characters to illustrate the history of the area, from the earliest days of the city in 1699, through to the music halls and the troubles of the family’s mum and dad up to the 1960s.
After the play sets out its stall – and threatens to veer into Scouse Play territory by throwing in a few Liverpool cliches – things become beautifully intriguing. Eileen O’Brien’s Maggie feels she has been taken advantage of all her life – she can pinpoint the very moment she became the way she is – and this is illustrated through some well-staged flashback scenes with a quartet of child actors. She decides she wants to give up the house – but what’s the real reason behind her rapid mental decline? O’Brien is simply brilliant in the role, aided by Wynne’s realistic ear for dialogue and a skillful balance of laughter and tears.
Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction is at once deft and warm; Peter McKintosh’s design a projection of artistic maps of the city with a central kitchen unit. Composer Isobel Waller-Bridge brings a high quality soundtrack that weaves through the play, somewhat reminiscent of the Harry Potter theme.
The first act really elevates the story and makes for a real emotional journey, however the second act loses some of that magic to become more of a conventional kitchen sink melodrama. For the audience, there is a genuine emotional investment in the family and the picture of the city the playwright paints, and the denouement brings things full circle with class.
Hope Place is the new first play commissioned for the new Everyman stage; it runs until May 31. Picture by Jonathan Keenan