Writer: Chloë Lawrence-Taylor
Director: Cesca Echlin
There is so much in If We Ended This that is not just good, but glimmering with something rare and exciting, but it’s so muddled with a bunch of stuff that isn’t quite working, it’s a little hard to separate the bad from the brilliant.
Let’s start with what we can say for certain: Abbie Harrison and Abby McCann are both exciting young talents. Shimmying effortlessly between wry, dry wit and frenzied, painful truths, they are unafraid to show the humour in misery and vice versa; to make the audience embarrassed to be laughing, or catch themselves feeling suddenly bereft at the end of a joke. There are moments where the sincerity is a little sudden or forced, but perhaps that’s down to the abbreviated nature of the scene structure; how can you lean authentically into a feeling of raw hurt when you’re only in character for a couple of minutes.
The script too feels fresh and succinct, and it’s a flavour this reviewer has experienced little of, full of awkward humour and nuanced characters. Told as a series of vignettes exploring intimacy – wanting it, creating it, being afraid of it, losing it – writer Chloë Lawrence-Taylor has no issues with opacity, leaving the audience to puzzle over the significance of a scene. On the one hand, it’s great not to talk down to the audience, but on the other, it feels distracting from the action, trying to piece everything together. Maybe just a little more fluidity between scenes, or a little more by way of explanation would be helpful.
The synopsis describes the play as drawing on “experiences of the past year in and out of lockdown”. There are a couple of scenes in which the last year’s influence is clear, and it’s really interesting to see this weird collective experience start feeding organically into contemporary storytelling, as it inevitably would. There’s a strange thread about mask-wearing, though, and whilst it re-occurs throughout, its message isn’t clear. Sometimes it feels like Lawrence-Taylor is saying that wearing a mask is prudish and uptight, which doesn’t chime with the rest of the story, so perhaps that’s a grave misinterpretation. It wants clarifying though, for obvious reasons.
All in all, it’s much better to see new writing taking risks and trying something bizarre and new, than leaning back on old tropes and easy choices. And while If We Ended This needs some polishing, it’s a sure display of major talent in the works from all involved, and it poses a lot of interesting questions.
Runs until 8 August 2021
Camden Fringe runs from 2 August until 29 August 2021