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Hope in Boxes/A Light in Every Window (Salford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Whilst tidying the belongings of their late grandmother Tony (Lewis Marsh) and Lisa (Samantha Vaughan) find letters to a man other than their late grandfather. A series of flashbacks brings the truth to light whilst in the present Lisa reveals her own secret.
Hope in Boxes is an ambitious play tackling themes such as the inability to ever truly understand another person, the way prejudices in society change over time and the need to avoid wasting our limited time. Writer Nicola Schofield ensures that the humanity of her characters is not buried under the weight of the themes.

What is lacking, however, is any sense of urgency or even drama, as the play does not move forward so much as drift. The conclusion is vague and although Lisa’s revelation serves to demonstrate how the significance of certain things can change over time, it still seems rather trivial. Considering the framing sequence there is little feeling of the influence of the past on the present. The play is also too long as evidenced by the chunk of the audience who left before the second half.
Director Gayle Hare sets a gentle, reflective tone. This generates a suitable sense of regret but mutes audience reaction to the lighter moments. The cast are excellent though and the understated performance of Lee Joseph and Phil Minns beautifully captures the longing of disguised lovers. Vaughan’s awkward Lisa is a joy.
Schofield continues to explore the changes brought on by time in the second half of the double bill but with less insight. A Light in Every Window is a much more confused play. Tracey (Vaughan) and Dillon (Joseph) are devastated when, at the height of the MADchester craze their friend Paul ( Minns) dies in a senseless accident. In the present Tracey tries to bring to an end what she sees as a series of lies by revealing to Dillon that she has known for years about his infidelity with Melanie (Julie Burrow).
The time in which the play takes place is not clear and this obscures the motivation of the characters. The characters talk like middle-aged people looking back on the 1980s but this would stretch the period of the affair to an unrealistic duration. Paul’s claim that his extra-marital relationship allows him to discuss the tragedy without upsetting his family makes no sense when it is shown that the affair pre-dates that event.
None of the characters are particularly likable so it is very hard to care about their feelings. Only Lewis Marsh shows any humanity when his blissed-out Dave responds to news of the affair with puzzled revulsion. There is a vague suggestion that the unfulfilled hopes which the characters had when younger might have provoked their actions but seeing as they didn’t really show any evidence of such aspirations it is hard to take this seriously. The lack of inspiration of the writer seems to have affected the cast with Lee Joseph suggesting emotional repression by mumbling.
The extensive use of music from the period feels like a cheat; trying to generate an emotional respond that really should have come from the content of the play.
This is a double bill that at times is thought provoking and moving but requires clarity and streamlining to be truly successful.

- Dave Cunningham


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