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World’s End review at King’s Head Theatre, London – ‘captivating performances’

World's End at the King's Head Theatre, London Photo: Bettina Adela

In James Corley’s debut play World’s End, global events and intimate histories collide to create a deeply affecting queer love story from a not-too-distant past.

Painfully shy Ben and his overprotective mum Viv arrive at the run-down World’s End estate in London. Their new neighbours, Kosovan refugee Ylli and his son Besnik, help them move in. Soon they realise they share more in common than they thought – in fact, maybe it’s Ben and Viv who are on the run.

Late-1990s textual references pinpoint major news events of the era, including the building of the Millennium Dome, the war in Kosovo and NATO’s subsequent bombing of Yugoslavia. Crucial to the plot is the release of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Nintendo 64 game over which the boys bond, before their relationship deepens into something more serious.

Under Harry Mackrill’s direction, the cast draws engaging portraits of complex, conflicted characters: Nikolaos Brahimllari’s Ylli remains proud of his homeland, but quickly develops a rapport with fellow single-parent Viv (Patricia Potter). Mirlind Bega exudes confidence as the worldly-wise Besnik, gradually coaxing Ben (Tom Milligan) from his shell.

Rachel Stone’s efficient design allows for quick changes between the two flats, evoking a hurried make-do-and-mend approach to interior design in rented accommodation. Key moments are played simultaneously as if separated only by the tower block’s paper-thin walls.

Slowly Ben and Besnik’s love blooms under their parents’ noses, but this is no fairytale romance. Corley plugs into 1990s nostalgia while avoiding dramatic cliche, wrong-footing the audience to exquisitely bittersweet effect.

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Captivating performances enrich a debut play about a blossoming gay relationship in 1990s London