The End of History…, Royal Court Theatre, London

Writer: Jack Thorne

Director: John Tiffany

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

There is an overwhelming theme of disappointment in the air in The End of History…, Jack Thorne’s new family drama. Lesley Sharp’s Sal and David Morrisey’s Dave, a well off couple with far left leanings, have aspirations for their three children that none could hope to meet. In turn, the children are disappointed in their parents, in particular, their mother’s need to overshare, in each other – and especially in eldest son Carl’s (Sam Swainsbury) choice of girlfriend.

Over three long scenes set in 1997, 2007 and 2017, the family dynamic plays out. And while Thorne’s dialogue touches on some of the changes in Britain over that period – from the early days of the Blair premiership to Brexit – this is not a great piece of social and political commentary in the guise of a soap opera on stage.

Indeed, it’s quite hard to work out what the point driving the writer is. If it’s not political, it may be more familial, exploring how far apart siblings and parents can get from each other while still remaining a family unit. Certainly, Grace Smart’s set, an expansive kitchen diner whose walls contain huge, decomposing holes, suggests a structure which, while stable, is fractured and somewhat lacking. Or maybe it’s just Thorne getting an Ayckbourn-style melodrama out of his system.

What is clear is that there’s little in the way of plot. That does mean the play’s sharply paced running time – just under two hours, with no interval – allows the dialogue to shine. Thorne captures the cadence of family habitual conversations whose structure has remained unchanged for years, to the obvious enjoyment and irritation of all concerned.

Sharp and Morrissey lift their characters above some of Thorne’s broader characterisation strokes that have been seen on stage and TV so many times before – Sal’s inability to cook being a case in point. The always excellent Sharp bustles around, never staying still lest her thoughts catch up with her, a contrast to Morrissey’s David, who spends much of the play sitting down.

There’s less of a connection between actor and character in the three children, upon whom the advancing years require bigger shifts in tone between scenes. Their three very different styles make it harder to imagine them as siblings, although the different relationships Kate O’Flynn’s Polly has with Swainsbury’s Carl and her younger brother Tom (Laurie Davidson) ring true.

John Tiffany animates the changes of scene with some well-choreographed sequences, offering hints at events whose consequences resonate throughout the subsequent scene. More thrilling, though, is the show’s climax, which is the complete opposite: Morrissey sitting on a chair, upstage, reading a speech off a piece of paper.

That moment – which both sumsup the family, warts and all, as well as giving the children both closure and more questions about their parents’ early years – tightens the grip on the audience’s attention that the play has retained throughout. But still, once it is over, one is left wondering quite what itch Thorne was scratching here – and, like the relationship between parents and children, the relationship between play and audience carries a whiff of mutual disappointment.

Continues until August 10 2019 | Image: Johan Persson

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Disappointing family melodrama

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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