World’s End – King’s Head Theatre, London

Writer: James Corley

Director: Harry Mackrill

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

It hardly seems like two decades since the war in Kosovo was raging and video games were in their infancy. James Corley takes us back to this era in his debut play, which skilfully blends comedy and tragedy into a teenage gay love story.

World’s End is an estate on the least fashionable part of Chelsea’s King’s Road. Divorcée Viv and her son Ben move into flat 13 in a block, next door to Kosovan refugee Ylli, a widower, and his son Besnik. The two boys strike up a friendship over games of Super Mario and Zelda and the friendship grows. Anyone who remembers the premise of Jonathan Harvey’s groundbreaking comedy Beautiful Thing will know where this is going, but predictability is offset by quirky character details, which keep the play afloat and Corley is eventually bold enough to overturn some of the Harvey feel good factor.

Patricia Potter’s Viv shows the frustration of a woman who is often between jobs and between men, but who retains a hankering for life’s finer things. Tom Milligan’s Ben is a stammering, housebound nervous wreck who can find no place for himself in the world. He contrasts with Mirlind Bega’s confident Besnik, who is more like his late mother than his father, a struggling artist, played fierily by Nikolaos Brahimllari. Ylli is a patriot who yearns to fight for his home country, but the play brings a stark reminder that sickening violence can also occur less distantly.

Director Harry Mackrill’s well-balanced production is at its best when scenes of domestic conflict are played over each other. The characters take turns to have bouts of hysteria and over-playing works well when it is generating comedy. However, it works less well when it nudges more serious scenes in the direction of melodrama. Disappointingly, Mackrill and designer Rachel Stone add little to give the production a period feel; for example, we hear no contemporary pop tracks. Also, a pedantic note to the writer for including a mention of The Sixth Sense in the dialogue: the film was first released several months after the very specific time when the play is set.

The play runs for 90 minutes without an interval and it says much for Corley’s writing that it ends with a feeling that there is plenty of scope for developing the characters further and expanding their storylines. World’s End is no world beater, but it is quietly touching.

Runs until 21 September 2019 | Image: Bettina Adela

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Quietly touching

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