Plays (and audiences) routinely cross the pond. Inquirer theater critic Toby Zinman visits London every summer to scout out what to see there, and get a peek at what might come here. Here, a family drama from high-profile playwright Jack Thorne, plus two more of the season’s buzzy plays in the UK.
A family drama with a leftist tilt, the end of history is more a portrait than a play, interesting to look at but essentially static, as it moves through history by 10-year hops.
Children grow up, not always into the people their parents had hoped they would be. At ﬁrst we think what charming, eccentric parents they are, what lucky kids to grow up in such a freewheeling, interesting home. But then….
The parents, David (David Morrissy) and Sal (Lesley Sharp), have spent their lives in love with each other and with radical causes, never losing hope that the world can be made a better place.
Meanwhile their children, Polly (Kate O’Flynn), Carl (Sam Swainsbury), and Tom (Laurie Davidson), have issues as they grow into their adult selves.
We ﬁrst meet Polly as a Cambridge student sending nude photos to her married boyfriend. She will become a successful—and rich —corporate lawyer.
Tom, a suicidal heroin addict, is the family’s gentle, sensitive soul, good with gardens. Carl, the eldest, has born the heaviest burden of expectations, and shocks his parents by marrying Harriet (Zoe Boyle), a beautiful, old-money French major who will eventually divorce him.
Happy families, as the sardonic English saying goes.
The End of History was written by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, King Kong), whose new play, Sunday will start performances at the Atlantic Theater in New York in September.
This current play in London is largely autobiographical, and that is the trouble. Like the long, earnest monologue that ends the play, it is a tribute, giving us information we should have learned dramatically through the play’s internal engine. John Tiﬀany directs.
Through Aug. 10 at Royal Court Theatre, London.
If you watch Endeavour on PBS, you’ll recognize the head of household in Rutherford and Son as Sgt. Thursday. (“Mind how you go.”) Roger Allam is a powerful actor, and his ﬁne performance is the main reason to see this play.
Written by Githa Sowerby in 1912, this revival has been directed by Polly Findlay with all the necessarily grim furnishings — lighting, furniture, costumes — to convey the heavy Victorian oppressiveness of northern England, where the accents are as relentless as the paternalism.
The family is comprised of a dried-up stick of an aunt, a nincompoop of a son married to a shrewd woman who is mother of his baby son, another grown Rutherford son (this one religious), and a sister, a “disagreeable old maid” who is in love with Martin, Rutherford’s trusted servant at the factory.
Martin will show himself to be a man who is loyal in all the wrong ways, unable to overcome his class servility. Surrounded by such nasty and unhappy people, one almost sympathizes with Rutherford, a tyrannical boss and father, relentlessly cruel and proud.
Like most plays about the world of business, this one is about relationships and money, not about the business. We never learn what the factory makes (For that matter, what does Willy Loman sell?) or what the secret recipe is for.
Every character gets a monologue, so our sympathy shifts again and again. But ﬁnally it’s all so predictable as to be as stultifying as the Rutherford world itself.
The droning female singers high up on the balconies add only irritation to the production.
Through Aug. 3 at the National Theatre, London.
This big play — 3-plus hours hours, with a cast of 30— on the National Theatre’s big Lyttleton stage, takes on a very big subject: racism and the British Empire. The tiny piece of the Empire in question here is the “small island” of the title, Jamaica in 1948.
Judging by the audience’s ovation, this sop to British guilt succeeds, although the cringeworthy message is that a mixed-race baby doesn’t stand a chance and that black people and white people should “stick to their own kind.”
It begins in Jamaica when the young girl is given away by her mother because with her light skin the color of “golden honey” she has a chance for education and a better life. Hortense (Leah Harvey) grows up and falls in love with Michael (CJ Beckford), who disappears from her life.
She will eventually emigrate to London where her teaching credentials are worthless and her husband (Gershwyn Eustache Jr.) endures racist taunts and lives in a rundown room in a derelict post-bombing house. His white landlady is Queenie (Aisling Loftus), whose husband (Andrew Rothney) oﬀers her a way out of the prison of life on her parents’ farm. (The hog butchering scene is especially charmless.)
One thing leads to another as it always does in high-minded soap operas, and Queenie winds up pregnant after a one-night ﬂing with Michael, and all manner of racist ugliness ensues, until they arrive at the solution: Give the baby to the black couple.
The play is filled with cliche after cliche and punctuated by implausible coincidences. The cast, trapped in this trite endeavor, has been directed by Rufus Norris to mug it up and shout their lines.
The upstage video projections complete the blatant staging, when, for instance, the words “The End” are spelled out in old-fashioned movie script to accompany a character’s death.
It was adapted for the stage by Helen Edmunson from the book by Andrea Levy.