This 70 year-old world premiere – a largely stodgy and shambling three hours – can count contemporary resonance as its saving grace. In addressing the Second World War, neglected American playwright Susan Glaspell’s final play ponders an all-too-familiar generational tussle: children facing a world their parents have brought to the brink of collapse.
As the title makes clear, it’s a question of lost hope. Disillusioned American academic Owen Higginbothem (a glowering, tetchy Stuart Fox) has dropped idealistic political philosophy for the study of dead languages. He feels responsible for those young men that are fighting for the future he foresaw, yet simultaneously laments his son’s conscientious objection. At home, he comes up against a series of alternative views on the war: the army doctor just back from Africa, the maid with a son fighting in Japan.
However, Owen’s a fascinatingly conflicted character trapped in a bloated, rudderless and talky play that comes complete with an elopement subplot so convoluted it scarcely makes sense. Owen’s son’s girlfriend seems to be planning – but isn’t – to run off with his first wife’s second husband. Got that? It’s there to impart some sense of farcical confusion, but mostly it just derails Glaspell’s play, leaving its core ideas encased in mounds of frothier padding.
Some moments burst out of Sam Walters’ nonetheless zesty production: Fox’s reconciliation with his artistic son (Jeremy Lloyd); Auriol Smith’s breakdown over her son’s capture; Julia Hill’s level-headed attempts to hold her family together as Owen’s wife. There are flickers of interest, but it’s a slog to sit through.
By Matt Trueman