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The End of Eddy review at the Studio, Edinburgh – ‘harrowing study of small-town homophobia’

Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills in The End of Eddy at the Studio, Edinburgh. Photo: Ryan Buchanan The Studio, Edinburgh Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills in The End of Eddy at the Studio, Edinburgh. Photo: Ryan Buchanan
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Edouard Louis was just 21 when he wrote The End of Eddy. It’s an astonishing work, an autobiographical chronicling of his childhood in a poverty-stricken, post-industrial village in Northern France, and a deeply insightful study of masculinity, identity and small-town prejudice.

Pamela Carter’s new version, co-produced by the Edinburgh International Festival and London’s Unicorn Theatre, takes a fairly analytical approach to adapting Louis’ novel for the stage. It splits the character of Eddy Bellegueule – Edouard Louis’ birth name; he changed it later in life – in two.

In identical outfits, Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills present Eddy’s story, sometimes as themselves, sometimes as Eddy. The expansive stage of the Festival Theatre Studio is largely bare, save for four TV screens on adjustable stands, where recorded clips of Austin and Mills playing family members and friends appear.

Director Stewart Laing handles the interaction between stage and screen well, even if it needlessly obscures the story at times. Austin and Mills have a gleeful, knockabout energy, slipping between characters slickly and smiling beguilingly at the audience as they pore over Louis’ book.

The story they conjure up is a traumatic one, with precious few flashes of hope or happiness. From a young age, Eddy battles homophobia from all sides. It’s to the credit of Carter and Laing that they pause to contextualise this prejudice, presenting Eddy’s tormentors not simply as villains, but also as victims of the same hierarchical, heteronormative system.

Harrowing stuff, at times, but thoughtfully presented.

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Stripped-back, analytical adaptation of Edouard Louis' acclaimed autobiographical novel