Faith, Hope and Charity review: Alexander Zeldin remains an unparalleled chronicler of everyday pain and joy

Sarah Lee
Sarah Lee

It’s the moments of grace in Alexander Zeldin’s plays that leave as much of a mark as those of deep pain. His trilogy of work about society’s most marginalised (Beyond Caring was about zero-hour contract workers; Love, a homeless hostel at Christmas) concludes with the story of a community centre that’s been threatened with closure. A band of waifs and strays are thrown together by circumstance rather than choice; movingly, their gentle optimism always ends up outweighing their outrage at a government that outsources basic services to the individual by way of neglect.

Hazel (Cecilia Noble, surely one of our best stage actors), runs the centre, absorbing the anxieties of the hungry. Mason (Nick Holder, funny and moving) becomes her unwitting sidekick, volunteering to run the choir, sharing new-age wisdom and hiding his own pain. Beth (Susan Lynch) and her son Marc (Bobby Stallwood) are in and out of court, battling to not have daughter Charity taken into care; Bernard (Alan Williams), an elderly mixture of gratitude, apologies and bewilderment, is loyal to the choir as a foil for his loneliness; Anthony (Corey Peterson) passionately battles with Bernard about generational culture wars.

The gripping naturalism – half-finished sentences and non-sequiturs – is matched by Natasha Jenkins’ extraordinary set. It’s the community centre we all know from childhood birthday parties and after-school clubs; stacked chairs, fireproof doors, a wall with crayon marks.

In comparison to Zeldin’s two previous shows, there can occasionally be a slight sense of working to a formula, or old tricks being recycled. Nor does it quite reach his past heady heights of gut-wrenching emotional power. But as a chronicler of the quiet tragedies, small victories and overwhelming mundanities of everyday life, Zeldin remains unparalleled. He still finds the hope in desperate circumstances, and can still catch you off-guard with a single line, never less than in Marc’s explanation of a heartbreaking strategy devised to stave off the pain of poverty: “When we’re hungry, we go to sleep.”

Until October 12, National Theatre (; 020 7452 3000)