The band is back together. Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, the playwright and director behind the mega-hit Harry Potter play, are reunited for The End of History…, a time-hopping, six-handed family saga set in a lived-in Newbury kitchen. It’s an odd, slightly aimless play – about as far from Hogwarts as you can get – but it’s always absorbing.
David Morrissey and Lesley Sharp play David and Sal, two baby boomers with far-left leanings. They protest, they march, they debate. But mostly they annoy the crap out of their three children – Carl, Polly and Tom (named, pointedly enough, after Karl Marx, Polly Hill, and Thomas Paine). Over three long scenes – 1997, 2007, and 2017 – we witness them tear strips off each other at a series of disastrous, dysfunctional dinners.
It’s strange, structurally. There’s not much plot, only the rise and fall of their lives over the decades, and it’s never exactly clear what Thorne is aiming at. It could be a political piece, observing how the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s ran dry in the following generation, giving way to New Labour. It could be a philosophical thing, pondering what impact our parents have upon us.
Thorne is still a writer of immense emotional intelligence, though, and his dialogue regularly devastates. Some of it’s funny – “I’m going to the toilet – it’s an apolitical act,” says Sal during one argument – and some of it is seriously sad: “What I want you to say, you lost the chance to say a long time ago,” Polly tearfully tells her dad.
Tiffany directs with a sure hand, splicing the scenes with passages of dance-like movement, the characters bathed in golden light as the years tumble from the calendar on the wall. It’s a typical example of Tiffany magic, but he’s also unafraid of stillness on stage. There’s a wonderful moment towards the end when Morrissey sits stock still on a chair, reading an intensely emotional speech, and you could hear a pin drop.
The fact that Tiffany can’t quite capture the homely hustle and bustle of family life is less due to his direction, and more due to some mis-matched performances. Morrissey and Sharp are both excellent. He’s beetle-browed and brusque, always ready with a quote or a comeback. She’s nervous and fidgety, every inch the mother who has grown fearful of what her children think.
Kate O’Flynn (gawky and geeky), Sam Swainsbury (weary and weaselly) and Laurie Davidson (shy and silent) do well individually with the other parts, but they’re not naturalistic enough to gel with either each other, or with Thorne’s deft dialogue.
The whole thing is engrossing for the entirety of its 110 minutes, straight-through run-time. Engrossing, but not overwhelming, and not one for the history books.