I’ve often wondered if mish-mash and mash-up come from the same root. I still don’t know but what I do know is that last night I saw a real mish-mash of a mash-up at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Iain Hollingshead and Timothy Muller’s new musical The End Of History.
A mash-up of a musical about teenagers doing their history GCSE and a history lesson, The End Of History doesn’t work on either level. There are echoes (very, very faint ones) of Spring Awakening mixed in with the history of the world from 1917 a la Oh What A Lovely War. One moment the young characters are having to deal with the onset of puberty, broken homes and exams – the next they’re representing countries such as Britain, the USA and Russia, singing songs about the Treaty of Versailles, the Great Depression, Hitler and Munich and the Yalta Conference! There are Cabaret style songs, a pastiche love song (I think it was a pastiche; it rhymed beauty and loopy) and even some rap. There was also a song that sounded very much like the Beatles’ “Back In The USSR”; I’m not sure Paul McCartney would approve! There were dodgy lyrics and some appalling rhymes including Stalin singing “Berlin is in my zone – time to make the city groan”! Time to make the audience groan more likely.
The songs are just all over the place and many seem to be at the top (and in one case, the bottom) of the young cast’s vocal range and at times they just sounded as if they were screeching. The book is a mess – full of trite, puerile clichés and at times not making much sense. The choreography was rudimentary, to say the least, and the dancing left a lot to be desired.
They say you should write what you know and Hollingshead who’s a history teacher in a secondary school in South London has done just that – he just hasn’t done it very well. There’s no chance for any character development as every time the characters start to get us interested in their lives, they take off their school ties, put on bow-ties made of the flag of a particular country and sing a song of history as Churchill, Stalin and Hitler. There’s no continuity in their journey from 14 to 16 – one character goes from a real bad boy flashing a Stanley knife, to reformed character in the blink of an eye. There are even two new pupils who arrive at the school in act two played by the actors who played different pupils in the first act – but they look exactly the same!
It would be unfair to name the young cast who do their best with some very ordinary material and flat direction. The energy levels aren’t really there as they try to breathe life into these one-dimensional characters. At times, it felt like an end of the year student revue – and not a very good one at that.
Henry Ford said, “History is bunk”. I’m not sure I agree with him but The End Of History certainly is.
Review by Alan Fitter
The End of History, a new musical by the creative team behind Blair on Broadway (“An unmissable evening in the theatre – Sir Derek Jacobi), opens for a three-week run at the Tristan Bates Theatre, Covent Garden, on 14th November.
The End of History is about a group of teenagers attempting to get to grips with puberty – and the events of the 20th century. From the Treaty of Versailles to the fall of the Berlin Wall, via Munich and mocks, Cuba and crushes, is their future any more certain than the past? And might the ‘end’ of history be the beginning of something else? From 1920s’ French jazz to 1980s’ rock, via swing, bebop, rap and rock n’ roll, the End of History is a musical for the 21st century which will appeal to anyone interested in the 20th century.
Book and lyrics Iain Hollingshead
Music Timothy Muller
Director Jessica Dawes
Lighting designer Sally McCulloch
Tristan Bates Theatre, 1A Tower St, London WC2H 9NP
14th November – 2nd December 2017