the end of history at Royal Court – review

Lesley Sharp and David Morrissey provide laughter and emotion in Jack Thorne’s family drama


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Production photo f the end of history at the Royal Court Theatre showing David Morrissey and Lesley Sharp
David Morrissey & Lesley Sharp in the end of history. Photo: Tristram Kenyon

It’s a world away from Jack Thorne and John  Tiffany‘s last collaboration- Harry Potter And The Curse Child– but the end of history is another moving drama about parent child relationships.

The title may refer to a book by Francis Fukuyama which around 1990 declared that, with the fall of communism in eastern Europe, liberal democracy had triumphed and its flag would fly forever and a day.

It’s 1997 and we meet Sal and David, two lifetime left wing socialists who perhaps can longer expect radical change. A clue is they’re not happy that Blair, leader of their party, has become prime minister. It may even be significant that they came from hard Manchester and now live in soft Berkshire.

Their three kids are in their late teens and early twenties. The oldest Carl is bringing his new girlfriend Harriet to dinner. She is the daughter of a rich father who owns hotels and service stations. Sal is as fascinated by the privileged as she hates the liberals. She talks too much and in a very frank way. In fact Lesley Sharp’s unfiltered talking when she’s nervous is hilarious. ‘No talent when it comes to cooking, she says of herself, but when it comes to pissing off my children – immense talent – Olympian talent.’

Her children are indeed embarrassed by her but they expect to be. But it’s the red parents who seem red faced because their children are not turning out to be radical socialists. A bust up ensues.

We move on ten years. The parents, true to their socialist ideals, take a decision that makes their children feel they have been judged to have betrayed the cause. Leading to another bust up.

All the children are much more their own people now. In fact, one of the joys of this play is how the children mature but are recognisably the same characters. Kate O’Flynn is the hard-edged Polly with a surly bottom lip like a snow plough. Always the best at winning arguments, she has become a cynical corporate lawyer. The less confident Carl, played by Sam Swainsbury, is married to Harriet (Zoe Ball), but not that happily. He has joined the family business. The highly strung youngest Tom, played by Laurie Davidson, remains a misfit with an inferiority complex and is yet to find his way. None of the children have the certainties that characterise their parents.

Production shot from the end of history at the Royal Court Theatre in London
the end of history Photo: Tristram Kenyon

By the end of act two, having experienced a wonderfully funny performance from Lesley Sharp as the mother, I was wondering why an actor of the quality of David Morrissey had been employed to provide a fairly standard dour northern dad. Then came the third act, ten more years on, and he delivered the most moving emotional monologue that explained so much of what formed the parents’ characters and relationship. ‘I thought she was astonishing, she thought I’d do,’ he says.

And the children at something like the halfway stage in their lives see their parents with a new perspective. Not the familiar ‘we just wanted you to be happy’ but something more appropriate to their intellectual rigour.

I don’t want to make this sound too political or philosophical because it is ultimately the story of a family, a believable family. They are loving but they’re not tactile and they’re not sentimental- and neither is Jack Thorne’s script. His dialogue conveys the relaxed banter and the rows of people who love and know one another. The children’s attachment to their parents and its effect on their lives is tangible.

John Tiffany directs with precision. The beautiful design by Grace Smart presents us with a simple family kitchen but with holes in the walls, perhaps suggesting the uncertainties of their lives.

A word of warning. In the middle of one argument, Sal says, ‘I’m going to the toilet. It’s an a political act.’ This is a particularly cruel thing to say in front of an audience who have to sit with their legs crossed through one hour fifty minutes without an interval.

the end of history can be seen at The Royal Court Theatre until 10 August 2019. Click here for tickets.

Watch the YouTube review of end of history on the One Minute Theatre Reviews channel

Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe – review

Orlando Bloom triumphs in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studio 1

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Click here to watch review on One Minute Theatre reviews on YouTube

Photo of Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios. Photo by Marc Brenner
Orlando Bloom in Killer Joe at Trafalgar Studios. Photo: Marc Brenner

This is the sort of night at the theatre I live for. Killer Joe was written by Tracy Letts, an actor who understands how theatre works and how to create great roles.

Despite all the sex and violence in the play, it is a moral tale. It’s reminiscent of Jacobean revenge tragedy with a nod to the claustrophobic overheated southern dramas of Tennessee Williams. In this case the claustrophobic set by Grace Smart is a convincing, trashy mobile home in a Texan trailer park. The intimate ‘cockpit’ of Traflagar Studio One really helps the oppressive atmosphere.

The literal trailer trash is very detailed and adds to the play’s recreation of the trailer trash lifestyle with its automatic switching on of Prozac television and Fast food diet. (One use of a fried chicken leg may have a permanent effect on how you view a bucket meal.)

Photo of Orlando Bloom and Sohie Cookson in Killer Joe. Photo by Marc Brenner
Orlando Bloom and Sohie Cookson in Killer Joe. Photo: Marc Brenner

The Smith family who live there are poor and ignorant which adds a layer of welcome humour but they could be anyone led by greed and a total lack of morality. They want someone close to them killed so they hire a hitman. Inevitably things go wrong and there are plenty of twists along the way.

In a series of scenes of sexual abuse which are uncomfortable to watch and shocking violence which is extraordinarily well done, we see what can happen when people are not controlled by morality or law.

Orlando Bloom is a revelation as a the smooth talking cold eyed sociopathic Joe. His sinister alpha male dominates the evening but each character is far more subtle than stereotypical trailer trash and every member of the superb cast seizes the opportunity to show a wide range of emotion.

Sophie Cookson is brilliant at walking the tightrope between being frightened of Joe’s sexual advances and, because she is used to being controlled, willing.

Photo of Adam Gillen and Steffan Rhodri in Killer Joe. Photo by Marc Brenner
Adam Gillen and Steffan Rhodri in Killer Joe. Photo: Marc Brenner

Steffan Rhodri as her father Ansel is a subtle mixture of bravado, cowardice, fear and excitement.

Her frantic, gullible brother Chris is the kind of person who always has a plan and the plan is never thought through. He’s a person adrift in a world he doesn’t really understand and that seems to be against him. He recognises feelings of love and regret but doesn’t know how to handle them. Adam Gillen conveys this with jerky body movements and looks of wide-eyed wonder as he realises what’s going on.

When we first meet her, she is confident, sassy which makes her downfall is all the more shocking.

Killer Joe is a unique theatrical experience. For example, there is no substitute for seeing someone hit in the face actually in front of you. The graphic fights directed by Jonathan Holby are incredibly well done.

Director Simon Evans keeps what could easily be an over the top grand guignol production under control right up to a beautifully choreographed violent finish.

Warning at Traflagar Studios

The warnings about this production are many and it certainly is not for the faint hearted. On the matter of nudity, there are three instances. At the beginning, in one of the many humorous moments  in the play, Sharla answers the door to her stepson Chris wearing only a top. Her pubic hair is clearly visible. When Chris complains, she responds by saying ‘I didn’t know who it was’.

Another occasion is a glimpse of Orlando Bloom’s bottom. By far the most shocking is a moment when Dottie is told to undress by Joe. He has his back to her but she is facing us the audience. It’s an unnerving moment which makes us feel complicit in this abuse,  just as the Smiths have become responsible for much more than they bargained for in hiring this monster.

Finally a word about the excellent use of music by Edward Lewis, both his own unobstrusive mood creating music and his sinister use of known pop songs.

Spoiler alert!

Killer Joe is a kind of pact with the devil and involves a sort of virgin sacrifice: the devil being Joe and the virgin being Dottie.

Killer Joe is another great show from producer Emily Dobbs. It is at Trafalgar Studio 1 until 18th August 2018.

Watch Killer Joe review on YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews