London Theatre Review: the end of history... at the Royal Court Theatre

Posted on 23 July 2019

Jack Thorne is one of Britain’s most acclaimed playwrights and screenwriters but even for him, a family history set over three decades seems bold and ambitious and the end of history… at London’s Royal Court Theatre is just that. 

Lesley Sharp and David Morrissey star as Sal and David, two Northerners who have benefitted from being part of the baby boomer generation; grammar schools, good tertiary education that has lead to solid careers, a nice house in Berkshire and three children.

The three children; Polly (Kate O’Flynn), Carl (Sam Swainsbury) and Tom (Laurie Davidson) vary in their successes. In 1997 Polly is at Cambridge and reminded that she is no longer the cleverest in the room, Carl has a rich girlfriend called Harriet (Zoe Boyle) and Tom is a bit of a delinquent. Issues of class and finances come to the head leading to an explosive finale of this first act.

The second act a decade later sees Polly in an inappropriate relationship with her boss, Carl is now married to Harriet and Tom, never meeting his full potential, is a young gay man struggling to find his place in the world. When Sal and David announce there will not be an inheritance it becomes a judgement on their children’s life choices. The final act, set in 2017, looks at how the events of that night lead to their current situations.

Overall, I thought this was a strong piece of work; a lot of humour looking at the family dynamic and the relationship people on the left have with their politics and ideals. Lesley Sharp is great as the talkative and in-your-face Sal, a woman who has contempt for Labour Leader Tony Blair but ultimately puts such ideals on herself and her family that you expect nobody would live up to them. David and Sal name their children after left-wing idealists but none of their children show an appropriate level of interest. Polly uses her Cambridge law degree to work for corporates, Carl marries rich and Tom feels forgotten. In a world where David and Sal took in all sorts of waifs and strays, it feels like their relationship with their children was sometimes forgotten.

At 2 hours with no interval, this flies by and as I have said previously about the play Nine Night it feels like a long-running drama series tying up loose ends. Revelations that might shock family members are played as if the audience somehow already knows. As a production, the slightly falling apart house and back garden make good use of the Royal Court stage and Imogen Heap’s music takes us through the years. There are some subtle ageing techniques; a slightly greyer David Morrissey and a sadder looking Sam Swainsbury that really work well, however, I would say it struggles to create characters without resorting to exposition in its short time. The final act’s revelations are emotional but it needs the time to develop the audience’s emotions towards these characters. It is a strong piece of theatre regardless, with some memorable performances and characters.

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the end of history... is playing at the Royal Court Theatre through 10 August. 

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Shanine Salmon

By Shanine Salmon

Shanine Salmon was a latecomer to theatre after being seduced by the National Theatre's £5 entry pass tickets and a slight obsession with Alex Jennings. She is sadly no longer eligible for 16-25 theatre tickets but she continues to abuse under 30 offers. There was a market for bringing awareness that London theatre was affordable in an era of £100+ West End tickets – Shanine’s blog, View from the Cheap Seat, launched in April 2016, focuses on productions and theatres that have tickets available for £20 and under. She is also quite opinionated and has views on diversity, pricing, theatre seats and nudity on stage. Her interests include Rocky Horror, gaming, theatre (of course) and she also has her own Etsy shop. Shanine tweets at @Braintree_.