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
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