Review: Hope is a four letter word at Alphabetti Theatre

Review: Hope is a four letter word at Alphabetti Theatre

Hope is a Four Letter Word.  Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

18th April 2024

It was a pleasure to return to one of my most favourite performances spaces in the North East in Alphabetti Theatre this evening to see it positively bustling with excitement and people enjoying a drink at the well stocked bar and waiting for the doors to open into their main stage where ‘Hope is a Four Letter Word’ by Gobscure is being performed for the next couple of weeks.

Directed by out-going Artistic Director and founder of Alphabetti Theatre, Ali Pritchard, this production could easily be described as quintessential to what this ambitious director intended for the venue when he took it on becoming one of the youngest artistic director running a venue at the tender age of 22-years old. He had brought together two wonderfully expressive performers, some lyrical and genius writing with elements of biting social commentary and awareness blended with gentle humour and sisterhood. For good measure, as part of this new production there are also several micro-commissions including performance art, spoken word and the set even includes elements provided by the local community in the weeks preceding the show opening earlier this week.

The performance begins even before the script starts with the two magnificent performers, Zoe Lambert (Cinderella: A Fairytale) and Rebecca Glendenning-Laycock (Boxcar Racer) greeting the audience as they enter and even helping them find their seats. Perhaps unusual but indicative of the freedom that is not afforded to their characters in the two narratives told between a performance from a nightly invited guest – ostensibly to give them a wee breather between the two hectic stories of incarceration told from two very different points of view. I doff my hat to this subtle but engaging touch.

The first story concerns an older prisoner on the verge of being released on parole after being jailed for twenty years. The poetic script rattles along at a fair lick and is full of despair, loss and regret with the inmate having lost a loving relationship with her son due to some reckless actions and ideals that has left her with only the torturous feelings of hope as she considers life on the outside. The one item which links her to her now grown son is a snow globe which is poignantly and movingly used to convey this sense of lost connection. Essentially a monologue, the two actors beautifully imagine the torment of this soul at two points in her life as the renegade and idealistic young freedom fighter and the more stoical and philosophical jailbird about to be released.

During the interlude, we are introduced to a semi formed personification of a pea to human-like character who is exploring their burgeoning humanity with their psychologist through the medium of a humorous song and dance performance. There is something very endearing about watching ‘Appy’ simply being happy and the audience this evening certainly really took to this humanoid legume.

While the first narrative in the piece is very retrospective in nature, the second has a far more urgent feel. This concerns the anguish caused by serious crime and the devastating mental health issues that can follow when the necessary support is not forthcoming when such events occur. There is the sense of the fantastical about this second piece which takes the observer from a psychiatric ward to a place of relative serenity with lapping water and even colourful birds. Whether this is purely in the mind of the performer is left to the audience to decide.

Linking the two pieces are the words of Kathy Boudin, herself incarcerated for crimes of terrorism, but who in the latter part of her sentence served other women advising on health and education in her own road to redemption.

The set, as is necessary in the space available at Alphabetti, is static but there was some clever use of lighting, particularly in the first segment which jarred the senses and really made the audience believe we were in a prison cell with the performer. The script of both pieces was beautifully lyrical with smatterings of the colloquial throughout. The soundscape was minimal but very effective and each segment had a multi media prologue of film and/or poetry to accompany it.

The performances from the two handed cast were mesmerising and the timing of some of the unison voices showed great skill and a thorough understanding of the script. That is more than can be said of this casual viewer seeing it for the first time. I am not going to lie – any commentary about what this piece was about is purely my own interpretation. I suspect that another viewer at a different time make take something entirely different from the piece than I did – but is that not what performance art and theatre is all about?

Why not get yourselves along to the adorable Alphabetti Theatre where you are always guaranteed a very warm welcome to see the thought provoking and thoroughly beguiling ‘Hope is a Four Letter Word’ which I am given to understand has been many years in the development.

Hope is a Four Letter Word plays at Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle until Saturday 4th May. All performances of this piece are relaxed and there is a captioned performance on Wednesday 24th April and it will be audi0 described on 1st May. Alphabetti Theatre where they believe that great art should be for everyone.

Booking Essential. Tickets are Pay What You Feel until April 20th.  After April 20th, priced £3 (‘no questions’), £7.50 (con), £15 (GA)  Available via:

Reviewed by Stephen Stokoe

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To accompany hope is a 4 letter word Alphabetti Theatre has micro-commissioned 18 North East based artists for rotating guest performances during the main show.

The roster spans music, poetry, art & theatre and is listed below:
April 16th – Ruth Lyon, April 19th – Claire Ogah, April 23rd – C. Mae Bloom
April 26th – Lindsay Nicholson, April 30th – Audrey Cook, May 3rd – Mack Sproates, April 17th – Toni Hurford, April 20th – Hannah Walker, April 24th – Harrison Rowley-Lynn, April 27th – Degna Stone, May 1st – Taliraw
May 4th – Eddie Doyle, April 18th – Appy, April 20th- AJ McKenna
April 25th – Zoe Murtagh, April 27th – Coggin Galbreath, May 2nd – Liberty Hodes, May 4th – Worm Saliva, 1PM

In keeping with our focus on the community at large, we’re inviting all visitors between now and opening night to contribute to the show’s set.
We’re aiming to have hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of paper props prepared in time for the first performance on April 16th. All visitors between now and then (or even during the run) can stop by the arts & crafts area in our café to conjure up a flower, plant, or miscellaneous piece of foliage – to be used on the set.

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