the end of history

Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs ***
Runs: 1hr 50 mins without interval
TICKETS 020 7565 -5000
In person: Mon–Sat, 10am-start of perf or 6pm if no show
On-line: www.royalcourttheatre.co.uk

© Johan Persson, David Morrissey as a sympathetic David, husband to Lesley Sharp's dynamic Sal - a loving couple...

© Johan Persson, David Morrissey as a sympathetic David, husband to Lesley Sharp’s dynamic Sal – a loving couple…

Review: of performance seen July 5, 2019:

Even the best of intentions can sometimes end up messily.

You’d think the combo of Jack Thorne and John Tiffany (Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and before that, Hope, and the brilliant adaptation of the Swedish gothic tale, let the right one in) would be a brilliant reunion.

But in the creative business – as in life – the best plans can go amiss.

And the end of history…despite its promising title – taken from Francis Fukuyama’s famous quote marking the end of the Cold War and pessimistically, the end of liberal democracy – proves illusive, well meaning but disappointing, not in the importance of its message but ultimately its structure and credibility.

Heaven knows, Thorne’s message is heartfelt and essential enough in today’s febrile, Free market atmosphere. Indeed, Thorne’s final flourish, the eulogy by David Morrissey’s husband to his recently deceased wife, could read as the Royal Court’s own manifesto of the views it holds most dear: socialist, activist, generous, altruistic, and international – all the values currently in danger of being swept away.

© Johan Persson, Lesley Sharp in Grace Smart's lovely set, pondering the future and her family...

© Johan Persson, Lesley Sharp in Grace Smart’s lovely set, pondering the future and her family…

But well meaning is not always enough in drama. To be persuasive, it requires something else, the X-factor(s) of narrative and character credibility, and dialogue that not only chimes with an audience but provokes and challenges.

Thorne’s domestic drama is set in Berkshire’s Newbury, home to Sal and David, a middle-class couple with decisively left-wing views and principles.

Indeed, Sal has held the banner for and marched on countless demos, been to Greenham and placed herself in jeopardy on many occasions to the extent of being jailed for her beliefs. Sal and David are even going to go so far as to cut their children out of their Will because they would rather not be a party to `entrenched’ wealth – a subject they see as contributing to the country’s present and rising inequality.

© Johan Persson, Lesley Sharp as Sal, the mum trying to bring up her children with principles. Family gathering with Laurie Davidson (Tom), daughter in law Harriet (Zoe Boyle), David Morrisey (Dad - David), Kate Flynnn (Polly) and Sam Swainsbury (Carl).

© Johan Persson, Lesley Sharp as Sal, the mum trying to bring up her children with principles. Family gathering with Laurie Davidson (Tom), daughter in law Harriet (Zoe Boyle), David Morrisey (Dad – David), Kate Flynnn (Polly) and Sam Swainsbury (Carl).

At the heart of the end of history…, then, is engagement with a serious subject: inequality and inherited wealth’s contribution to it. But the sting only comes after more than an hour of domestic repartee that aims for wit and demotic colour (including phone porn) but whose dialogue nonetheless often sounds forced or just a tiny bit lame when compared to Russell T Davies’s Years and Years.

© Johan Persson, the three off-spring, fighting, competitive...Kate Flynn's spikey lawyer, Polly, Sam Swainsbury's Carl and the youngest, Tom (Laurie Davidson).

© Johan Persson, the three off-spring, fighting, competitive…Kate Flynn’s spikey lawyer, Polly, Sam Swainsbury’s Carl and the youngest, Tom (Laurie Davidson).

the end of history focuses on the same area of family squabbles and relationships as a microcosm of something much larger, the personal and the political. But it fails to hit the same number of bulls-eyes and loses momentum in its time scales name checking Blair, Brown and then suddenly speeding up to the Brexit era.

All the same, Tiffany’s spirited production is resonant enough, if melodramatic, in its examination of parenting, sibling rivalry, parental expectation and living out your political principles.

I loved Laurie Davidson’s gay, vulnerable Tom, the youngest of the three offspring, always slightly on the defensive. And Sam Swainsbury’s Carl, playing second fiddle to his sister, Kate O’Flynn’s spikey, acid tongue Oxbridge lawyer, Polly.

© Johan Persson, Laurie Davidson as Tom, the youngest  son of Sal and David. A winning performance...

© Johan Persson, Laurie Davidson as Tom, the youngest son of Sal and David. A winning performance…

Lesley Sharp’s Sal requires a little more weight to convey the firey, irritating, and essentially loving Sal whilst David Morrissey is only called on to add the occasional quizzical aside until his final, moving eulogy which, again, dramatically, feels uncomfortably clunky if emotionally viable.

We seldom understand each other’s lives until after their death, a truism particularly in respect of our perception of our parents.

Designer Grace Smart provides a beautiful interior which opens out into a floral conservatory and a house revealing cracks and fissures emblematic for a play offering an epitaph for an era.

the end of history…
World premiere of new play by Jack Thorne

Cast:

Polly: Kate O’Flynn
Sal: Lesley Sharp
David: David Morrissey
Carl: Sam Swainsbury
Harriet: Zoe Boyle
Tom: Laurie Davidson

Director: John Tiffany
Designer: Grace Smart
Lighting Designer: Jack Knowles
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons
Movement Director: Steven Hoggett
Casting Director: Amy Ball
Costume Supervisor: Lucy Walshaw
Assistant Director: Meghan Doyle

The Quiet, written, composed, produced, engineered and mixed by Imogen Heap.

First perf of the end of history… at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, June 27, 2019. Runs to Aug 20, 2019

Review published on this site, July 5, 2019