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Alexander Zeldin, Playwright, 2017
© Alyssa Schukar

Alexander Zeldin: ‘I need to feel like this could be a disaster’

The National Theatre’s chronicler of the age of austerity returns with a drama about a struggling community centre

By Andrzej Lukowski

Playwright and director Zeldin has gone from obscurity to major rising star after his devastating 2014 fringe play about zero-hours contracts ‘Beyond Caring’ was snapped up by the National Theatre. The follow-up, ‘Love’, about temporary housing, was staged by the NT and had a David Schwimmer-produced TV production. Now the foremost theatrical chronicler of the age of austerity, he ends his NT trilogy with ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’, set in an ailing community centre.

Did you always plan to do a trilogy?

‘I like thinking of things in threes. They don’t follow on from each other but definitely there is a theme in these plays of people fragilised – I know that’s not a word – by this system we’re now living in.’

What is it actually about?

‘My story is about a woman called Hazel, played by Cecilia Noble, who has been putting on a lunch for 25 years for people in need. These lunches and foodbanks and catering for people in need have gone up exponentially in the last few years. What does that mean for the moral fibre of our society?’

Is it a problem that you write theatre about the very poor but tickets to your shows can be very expensive?

‘Yeah. Too expensive. But the reason prices for this are so high is that we can have a lot of cheap tickets.’

Did you have any other ideas for these plays?

‘Oh, I had so many false starts. After “Love” I started by looking at the videos of the Grenfell hearings; then I decided to do a play about floods in northern England; then I got interested in the novels of JM Coetzee. But after a while it became clear that I wanted to set something in a community centre, so I visited foodbanks across the country and started to find a common thread.’

How do you think it will be received?

‘It’s a bigger play than the others: it’s longer, it’s more ambitious. I want to put myself in danger: I need to feel like this could be a disaster. But I hope we’ll be ready!’

‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ is at the National Theatre. Until Oct 12.

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