Pros: A hilarious, touching, emotional ride through contemporary social and sexual mores
“That was nice,” says Janet as the slides off him. Dermot pulls up his pants beneath the eiderdown, and she buttons up the access hatch in the groin of her mouse costume. “I’ve never had sex with a giant mouse before,” he admits.
It turns out that while Dermot is new to this, Janet is an old hand, having sex with people she meets through a website once a week. Sometimes for money. “You’re a prostitute?” says Dermot, aghast, an accusation she vehemently denies. “You sleep with strangers for money.” To which Janet replies: “Only if I don’t fancy them.”
Dermot, played with robust conviction by Rufus Wright, is a confident intellectual who despises the fact that Janet only watches ITV, which he believes is “symbolic of everything that’s wrong with this country.” Janet, by contrast, professes never to have seen Channel 4, imagining it only as a channel for “gay Pakistanis”. This dichotomy in taste goes far beyond their mere viewing habits; the split between TV channel preference is magnified to represent the difference in their outlook on the world.
Janet is played to perfection by Elinor Lawless, a job made all the harder by the costume that obscures everything except her mouth. All her emotion has to be expressed either verbally or through subtle tilts of the head; yet she manages to bring this bizarre costume to life, not removing the head until the final scenes.
As Janet and Dermot talk, post-coital murmurings give way to heated argument as they realise they have absolutely nothing in common. They live in Belfast, where she’s a committed Protestant who works in Tesco and who wears the mouse costume because God told her to. He’s a socialist Catholic atheist who despises Tony Blair, Big Brother and Simon Cowell. “I don’t believe in atheists,” says Janet in one of their many sparring tiffs. “I don’t believe they exist.”
And yet despite their many and varied differences and their near-total incompatibility, they are drawn together by a common fascination, as if each fills in the gaps in the other’s personality, despite their failure to comprehend each other’s cultural frame of reference.
The End of Hope deals with big moral issues, veering from politics to celebrity, from religion to sex. The mouse costume at the centre of the play neatly highlights the masks we all wear to protect our inner selves from public scrutiny. Hiding behind a disguise gives us the confidence we need to really be ourselves.
Written by the Irish playwright David Ireland, the hour-long play is a hilarious rollercoaster ride through emotional upheaval which leaves the audience laughing through their tears at the one-liners, the situational gags and the sheer bizarre nature of Janet’s costume.
The End of Hope is the funniest play I’ve seen all year: a deeply personal study of personality and public ambiguity. Highly recommended.
Author: David Ireland
Director: Max Elton
Producer: Soho Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre
Booking until: 11 November
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/the-end-of-hope/