John Tiffany and Jack Thorne: ‘It’s a play about people struggling to be good’

The duo behind vampire hit Let the Right One In talk about their new, anti-austerity play, set in a Labour council

Jack Thorne: the hardest-working writer in Britain?

In a south London rehearsal room, the director John Tiffany (Black Watch, Once) and the writer Jack Thorne (This Is England 88, The Fades) are telling me about their morning outing to Westminster, where they and the cast of their new play spent time with Hilary Benn, the shadow secretary of state for communities and local government.

“It was a wonderful hour,” says Tiffany, slightly to my amazement. “It fired the actors up; you could see that afterwards. Hilary used to be a councillor in Ealing, and to hear him talk about his achievements in local government – a ‘No entry’ sign he got put up, a set of railings he saved – felt so fresh and true to actors who will be playing characters just like him. He’s given us an urgent kind of energy.”

And will there now be another trip to meet Eric Pickles, Benn’s opposite number? The pair look mildly appalled. “This is a play about the Labour party,” says Thorne, quietly.

Hope examines the effect of the government’s austerity measures on a council in a small, possibly northern town (we’re never told where it is, but Thorne, who was commissioned to write it by the Royal Court, used to be active in the Labour party in Luton).

“I wanted to write a play about people who are struggling to be good,” says Thorne, who has been “fascinated” by local government since childhood (his father was a town planner). “I hope it’s not an anti-Tory play, but the fact is that these cuts are falling predominantly on Labour councils. It is a call to arms,” he says. “I’m asking: how are we [the Labour party] going to do this? Austerity has been used as a weapon to beat us with for so long. But what does it mean that we’re shutting places that help people? This is a play about pragmatism versus principle. It’s the argument we’ve been having since Blair, and we haven’t resolved it yet.”

For the rehearsal period, Tiffany has encouraged each member of the company to adopt a local council. He chose Kirklees in West Yorkshire (he’s from Huddersfield). “I check in every week,” he says. “But there’s never any good news. There’s nothing left to cut, and yet they’ve got to lose another £69m over the next three years.”

This isn’t, you soon gather, a project that has much in common with, say, The Thick of It, for all that it will star Paul Higgins, who played the foul-mouthed Jamie in Armando Iannucci’s satire. Hope has an idealistic, perhaps rather naive heart, and looks back, in artistic terms, to a time when aldermen made regular appearances in plays and novels (see JB Priestley, or Winifred Holtby). “It’s a big, ambitious play,” says Tiffany. “The MPs in The Thick of It are pathetic. Our councillors are all pretty competent.”

Tiffany and Thorne met when the latter was a student at Cambridge; Tiffany, who began his career at the Traverse theatre in Edinburgh, came to run a theatre workshop at the university, they stayed in touch, and it was to him that Thorne sent his first play. They’re about to take their vampire hit, Let the Right One In, to New York, and both are in the middle of fruitful periods: Tiffany won a Tony for best direction for Once, which is still running in London; Thorne’s latest TV series for E4, Glue, has been widely acclaimed, and shooting has just completed on the final instalment of his Bafta-winning collaboration with Shane Meadows, This Is England (’90). What will they do next? Can it possibly be true that they’re to follow their teenage vampires and Labour councillors with a Harry Potter play? All I can tell you is that when this subject comes up, they’re all coy smiles.

Hope runs at the Royal Court, London SW1, 26 November-10 January

Jack Thorne: the hardest-working writer in Britain?

Contributor

Rachel Cooke

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jack Thorne and John Tiffany: 'You're the warrior, I'm the worrier!'
After a string of hits, the writer and director are collaborating again but The End of History, a drama based on Thorne’s parents, is filling him with anxiety

David Jays

30, Jun, 2019 @11:01 PM

Article image
Hope review – a well-meaning but dull austerity play
The team behind Let the Right One In fail to quicken the blood with a play about a Labour council facing budget cuts, writes Susannah Clapp

Susannah Clapp

07, Dec, 2014 @12:03 AM

Article image
The End of History ... review – Jack Thorne surveys the death of radical England
Beautifully staged by John Tiffany, Thorne’s new drama explores the pitfalls of socialist parenting

Michael Billington

04, Jul, 2019 @10:48 AM

Article image
Jack Thorne: 'Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in anger, and I love him for that'
The screenwriter and dramatist on why we’re all Scrooge, writing a Covid care home drama and his brush with Star Wars

Michael Hogan

06, Dec, 2020 @9:30 AM

Article image
Lesley Sharp: ‘Women in their 50s are regarded as having waning powers’
The theatre and TV star on how an untimely fire alarm led to her new role at the Royal Court – and the joy of swimming

Sarah Crompton

15, Jun, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
Jack Thorne: the hardest-working writer in Britain?

After his success with E4's Glue, Thorne is returning to the theatre with Hope at the Royal Court. Mark Lawson meets him

Mark Lawson

21, Sep, 2014 @3:24 PM

Article image
JK Rowling: ‘Harry Potter’s world is always in my head’
The author, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne spent two years collaborating on The Cursed Child. Here, they give an exclusive interview before curtain up…

Sarah Crompton

05, Jun, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
The week in theatre: Europe; The End of History; The Color Purple – review
David Greig’s play on continental movement still resonates, while the makers of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child can’t summon the magic this time

Susannah Clapp

07, Jul, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
The best performance I've ever seen: John Tiffany
Olivier award-winning director John Tiffany, whose National theatre of Scotland production of Peter Pan opens this month, was set on a science career until he saw Robert Lepage's epic Tectonic Plates in 1990

Kate Kellaway

10, Apr, 2010 @11:05 PM

Article image
Just to Get Married; Road review – fire and anxiety
A forgotten Edwardian drama hits home, while John Tiffany delivers rage and vaudeville in a bravura revival of Jim Cartwright’s Road

Susannah Clapp

06, Aug, 2017 @7:00 AM