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

Instructions For Correct Assembly

Instructions For Correct Assembly, a new play Thomas Eccleshare, directed by Hamish Pirie, at Royal Court Theatre, London

Click here to see the review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Jane Horrocks, Bian Vernel & Mark Bonnar in Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court Theatre London
Jane Horrocks, Bian Vernel & Mark Bonnar in Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court. Photo: Johan Persson

If there were instructions for the correct assembly of a stage play, how would they read? First, get a good theme. In Thomas Eccleshare‘s Instructions For Correct Assembly, we have at least two: dealing with grief;and when we create something how much responsibility and control do we have.

Then you need a plot. Again we have two. We start with a married couple, who enjoy DIY, constructing a human robot. It becomes apparent that they are trying to create an improved version of their young adult son who died. The second story- of what happened to their son- is told in parallel.

The two stories don’t always fit easily together. The sci-fi story leads to some hilarious moments as the robot tries to please but reveals his essential amorality. There’s a scene at dinner with friends where his inability to filter leads to sexual remarks so rude I can’t repeat them here. On the same occasion, he states his ambition to sell junk food outside secondary schools before responding to the shocked reaction and eventually muting it to organic healthy food. The other story is a poignant sometimes brutal portrayal of what it’s like when your child is an addict.

Cast of Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court
Instructions For Correct Assembly at Royal Court. Photo: Johan Persson

Then you need good characters and you need to assemble a cast of good actors to play them. Jane Horrocks as Max and Mark Bonnar as Harry are excellent as the fragile but positive parents. They make a believable loving couple. Michele Austin and Jason Barnett are exactly right as their friends- the Joneses, as it were, with whose child Harry and Max can only wish theirs could keep up with.

Brian Vernel is brilliant both as the son and, especially, as his fast talking robot replacement. Alike but subtly different, both try to impress and both lie. Neither ‘son’ turns out how the parents plan- and this is the glue that holds the play together.

A good production also needs a good designer. Cai Dyfan’s superb set starting as a tight aperture through which we view the action gradually opens up to show that the world cannot be controlled.

As with many assembly packs, there is one piece missing. A heart. Perhaps this is deliberate on the part of the author but, funny and interesting as it was, I didn’t find the play emotionally involving.

Instructions For Correct Assembly performs at the Royal Court‘s Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 19 May.

See below the review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews