Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 12 May, 2010

Unlike Messrs Cameron & Clegg, playwrights David Eldridge, Robert Holman and Simon Stephens have been involved in their own coalition and negotiation process since 2002. The resulting play is so comprehensively collaborative that it is impossible to attribute specific elements, with the exception of its locations: Exeter (Eldridge), greater Manchester (Stephens) and Teesside (Holman), with London as common ground.

Their mutual egging-on has paid off. I could not have imagined any one of them writing a play set like this at the end of the universe. (This is neither a nuclear nor an ecological apocalypse, but simply the spontaneous unravelling of the cosmic string, apparently.) What the work of each has in common is a preoccupation with ordinary people trying to find a way to get through in one piece... even if, as here, it is only to get through the three weeks until the final full stop. Nor is it a matter of the characters’ survival amid dystopian anarchy: instances of social breakdown are reported in passing, but just as likely as murder on the Selfridge’s perfume counter is an ice-cream man giving out his wares for free. The magic-realist fabric also includes precognition, conversations with the dead and, at the centre, a mother and her five sons whose ages span 36 years. It is their reunion that drives the narrative, a reunion both for the end of it all and for the possibly pre-emptive death from cancer of the eldest brother.

This parallel shows us the play’s heart. How would you behave if you knew your life was ending – what would you try to set right, what truths would you finally speak? The terminally ill make such choices every day, but what if we all had to make them at the same time because everything was ending? Everyday relationships acquire an immense significance; candour and its opposite, diplomacy, become equally priceless. A brief central scene between James and his wife Harriet (Pearce Quigley and Tanya Moodie) powerfully illustrates the depth and complexity of the bonds between a couple; youngest brother Phil (Harry McEntire, seen at this address last year in Stephens’ Punk Rock) is the licensed truth-teller in the family.

Sean Holmes’ production takes place on an almost bare, indeed half-disassembled, stage; nothing distracts from the human business – the business of being human, portrayed by a uniformly committed cast. The trio of writers have created a Marmite kind of play, likely to be either loved or hated; I’m in favour.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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