A CurtainUp London Review
the end of history . . .
the end of history is a political and philosophical concept that supposes that a particular political, economic, or social system may develop that would constitute the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution; the end of the historical dynamic with the perfection of civil society.
Sal and David (Lesley Sharp and David Morrissey) have settled in Newbury close to where Sal came to support the Women's Peace Camp at Greenham Common, where a protest residential sit in against the American Air Force base lasted for 19 years. Like many of those protesting she brought her children with her at the half term breaks. Now she works as a college lecturer in English.
The play opens in 1997 when the Greenham Peace Camp is in its 16th year. Her husband David works in utilities and is a trade union activist. The family is gathered to meet university student Carl (Sam Swainsbury)'s new girlfriend Harriet (Zoe Boyle) a girl from a very affluent family. Polly (Kate O'Flynn), their middle child, is in her second year at Cambridge reading law. Tom (Laurie Davidson), the youngest at 17 is in detention at school locally.
At this point you may think you have stumbled into a comedy as Sal dives into social gaffes with both feet, only digging a bigger hole as she tries to extricate herself. She is toe curlingly embarrassing. "How does someone own service stations? I'm fascinated." Sal's lack of cooking skills are legendary, often resorting to omelettes as she has burnt the main offering but she is most proud of her very bright daughter. There is an interesting speech from Polly about how brilliant she was at school only to find herself less exceptional at Cambridge and the blow to her self esteem.
With a small change of scene and the tearing off a calendar in interludes with members of the family entering and exiting, choreographed by Steven Hoggett, we return in 2007 and again later to 2017. the end of history . . . is about inheritance and I thought back to those worthy Victorian industrialists who raised all too often wastrel sons and the way in which the next generation often rebels against the values of their parents. There are many examples now of millionaires leaving their money to charities rather than to maybe spoil their children. Here is a play about the children of the Baby Boomers, the parents who experienced the revolutions of 1968 and the flower power of the 1960s.
David's ambition for his daughter Polly, the cleverest of his children, is that she should be a barrister like Helena Kennedy, a proponent of women's rights and defender of just anti-establishment causes. Carl forges a career with strings working for his father in law and Tom is encouraged by his mother to write. Guess who Tom is based on?
Although Sal and David may have spent time in fostering the children's sense of social justice, their emotional upbringing and expectations may have suffered as Polly is trapped in a long term affair with her married boss and Carl's broken marriage leaves him fighting for access to his children. As David puts it in a closing speech, "That's all you really want as parents – the idea that your young are clever enough to choose their own paths." That's not what he said earlier when talking about Helena Kennedy.
As movement director, Steve Hoggett's talents are underused in the end of history . . .. Grace Smart's design shows a kitchen/living room where the attention is devoted to Sal's worthy causes and political rallies rather than homemaking in a house which gets more dilapidated in a sketch of the upstairs walls. The blossoming garden however reflects Sal's love and attention.
There are many ideas in this play but few are fully developed. Maybe the subject matter was too close to home for Thorne to skewer his conclusions? There are times when the mother feels like caricature in the first act and the intimate photos sent by Polly to and from her boss are too much information. Maybe the point is that intelligence and ease with sexuality are inversely proportional? Lots of ideas don't always make a coherent play but there is certainly much to discuss.
The performances are good: I particularly liked Kate O'Flynn as Polly and David Morrissey's tribute to his wife is the highlight of the play. Zoe Boyle as Harriet matures horribly from nervous but posh undergraduate into corporate executive but not for the better. Is the end of history . . . about parental resources and where we devote them? And "the end of history"? I suspect we are not quite there yet.
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the end of history . . .
Written by Jack Thorne
Directed by John Tiffany
Starring: Lesley Sharp, David Morrissey, Sam Swainsbury, Kate O'Flynn, Zoe Boyle, Laurie Davidson
Design: Grace Smart
Lighting Design: Jack Knowles
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons
Movement: Steven Hoggett
Running time: One hour 50 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 10th August 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 3rd July 2019 evening performance at The Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)
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