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Royal Court Theatre

The End of History; 5 Sloane Square, London, SW1; Thu 27 Jun - Sat 10 Aug; from £12

Newbury, 1997. Sal (Lesley Sharp) is attempting to cook dinner for the family. She and husband David (David Morrissey) have pulled off a coup and gathered their brood back home for the weekend. Eldest son Carl (Sam Swainsbury) is bringing his new girlfriend Harriet (Zoe Boyle) to meet everyone for the first time; middle daughter Polly (Kate O’Flynn) is back from Cambridge University for the occasion; and youngest Tom (Laurie Davidson) will hopefully make it out of detention in time for dinner.

Sal and David would rather feed their kids with leftist ideals and welfarism than fancy cuisine. When you’ve named each of your offspring after your socialist heroes, you’ve given them a lot to live up to…

Review by Ruth Connick:

The new play by Jack Thorne depicts a dysfunctional family, like any, traversing two decades. Performed for the first time at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs on Thursday 27 June 2019, this play, a recipient of the Edgerton Foundation New Play Award, is an entertaining and thought-provoking domestic drama with a political and psychological through-line. Through his characters Sal and David, parents to Carl, Polly and Tom – named after their parents’ socialist heroes – Thorne explores a plethora of themes including socialism, welfarism and parental expectations. He highlights the change in generations, encouraging us to think about the greater good vs the individual, the collective vs independence. Thorne addresses the timeless debate around inheritance.

Grace Smart’s set of a creative middle-class kitchen/living space felt lived in and homey, but a little eerie with the walls showing large cracks and holes, mirroring the writing’s suggested slow decay of socialist thought and action. The first act takes place in 1997, the second in 2007 and the third in 2017. The passage of time is beautifully conveyed by movement sequences choreographed by Steven Hogget. Quite different to some of Thorne’s other works, namely Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, this play feels somewhat semi-autobiographical. Vulnerability is commendable and identifiable. Thorne clearly has an ear for dialogue, writing witty yet hearty scenes. At times I couldn’t help but laugh at the naivety, hypocrisy and over-sharing of the family. Albeit humorous, and sometimes shockingly funny, something was missing. It felt disjointed or disassociated at times, and it was hard to decide whether this was a goal or, if the writing or the acting was at fault. (Hopefully something which will be ironed out over the five-week run. The end of history is on at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until Saturday 10th August.)

Kate O’Flynn’s Polly was brilliantly convincing as she grew from the 19-year-old Cambridge student, to the 29-year-old lawyer having an affair with her married boss, to the 39-year-old junior partner, who has ‘the feeling I can do better.’ This stuck out, particularly because David, played by David Morrissey, says something of the sort to Carl, Sam Swainsbury, earlier on in the play, suggesting this play to be a psychological study; a nature/nurture debate or rather a domestic versus community/national debate. Everyone can identify with some element of these complex characters’ experiences.

John Tiffany’s direction was flawless. He is not afraid to counterbalance high action with long moments of stillness. David’s final monologue was incredibly engaging and it’s success could be attributed to the stillness on stage. Imogen Heap’s score was discreet yet moving. It complemented the action beautifully.

All in all, the end of history… is a modern play that cleverly taps into the psyches of today’s individuals, making us laugh, cry and leaving us with a lot to think about.

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