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This Will End Badly review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘gripping and unsettling’

Ben Whybrow in This Will End Badly at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Ben Broomfield Ben Whybrow in This Will End Badly at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Ben Broomfield

This is a play about blockage, both physical and emotional. The protagonist is stopped up; he hasn’t had a shit in days, his bowels are full of house bricks and he’s starting to walk with a gait like John Wayne.  But this isn’t scatology for the sake of it. It’s symptomatic of something deeper.

This Will End Badly, which was performed at the Edinburgh fringe last year, is an intricate bit of writing. Rob Hayes clearly knows a thing or two about titles, his last play was called Awkward Conversations with Animals I’ve Fucked, and there are lines here which sing like harp strings. Perhaps more importantly his monologue is eloquent in its exploration of masculinity and mental ill health. It’s a portrait of someone struggling to cope, with pressures both self-imposed and external, a man who’s isolated himself completely – he barely leaves the house – terrified of his own obsessive tendencies and capacity for destruction. His pain is juxtaposed with a more sexually rapacious voice, cruising bars, reducing women to conquests, prizes to be claimed.

Ben Whybrow’s performance shifts seamlessly between these positions. He paces the stage – Jemima Robinson’s tiled pedestal, complete with porcelain throne, ominously under-lit by Christopher Nairne – fizzing and jittery and evidently distressed, yet he also captures the play’s bleak humour, its striking imagery. He’s alternatively confident and vulnerable, predatory and lamb-like, his desperation increasing. And while Clive Judd’s deft production sometimes suffers from the inherent stillness of the solo show, it remains a gripping and often genuinely unsettling piece of theatre.

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A tense, darkly comic monologue exploring modern masculinity and mental ill health