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At last, a play for our time at the Royal Court. Jack Thorne has produced a thoughtful and objective piece about ‘the cuts’ which blends the political with the personal.

Mark is the Deputy Leader of a Labour council faced with slashing services following a huge cut in its government grant which, like all councils, represents most of its funding. The Leader Hilary is more resigned to the task, but he’s torn. Despite this they start the process and come face to face with the realities of closing Day Care centres and reduced street lighting in high risk areas. Influenced by his colleague and girlfriend, who herself is influenced by her Old Labour father, Mark eventually turns and leads their refusal to set a budget. Predictably, the government takes over the process and they are faced with implementing what others have decided for them. This is interwoven with Mark’s personal story, with visits from his precocious, highly intelligent son Jake and the development of his relationship with Julie.

At first I found it lacked anger and bite, but as it progressed I realised that wasn’t the point. It presents us with a difficult, indeed impossible situation – cut, or we’ll do it for you. To comply you have to abandon your principles, but to rebel could be worse. Though they seem to have cut 15 mins in preview, I did find the first half too slow and the second half much better paced. I wondered whether a combination of judicious cuts, faster pacing and no interval might not make it a better play. It starts and ends on, and in front of, the town hall stage, which recedes to reveal a huge hall in which all of the scenes are played out. Tom Scutt’s design works less well in the more intimate ones, but does bring a realism to the piece. Director John Tiffany includes some of his trademark quirky movement, which seems a bit incongruous on this occasion.

There’s a terrific performance from Tommy Knight as Jake and the final scene between him and Tom Georgeson’s old Labour George is one of the play’s best. When we hear from a client of the Day Centre facing closure, its heart-breaking. Stella Gonet as Hilary seemed at times as if she was still in Handbagged playing Thatcher; this characterisation of a Labour council leader didn’t feel right to me. It was good to see Sharon Duncan-Brewster again and she handles the combination of public servant, daughter and lover very effectively.

In its present state, its a good play that could be a great one, like Thorne’s earlier piece 2nd May 1997, the birth of the New Labour government, but its good to be leaving the Royal Court happier than I have of late.

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