Home » London Theatre Reviews » Death of England: Closing Time – National Theatre | Review

Death of England: Closing Time – National Theatre | Review

As powerful and on point as Roy Williams and Clint Dyer’s play is, if I am brutally honest (which, quite frankly, I’m not always allowed to be) then it hits you as if, whilst writing, they got stuck and decided to pop down to Rent-a-rant. There’s a rant about being black; there’s a rant about white privilege; there’s a rant about West Indian food; there’s (the obligatory) rant about the economy; there’s a rant about racism; there’s a rant about men’s bare boxing-ready torsos; there’s a rant about loud music; there’s a running-rant about patois; there’s a rant about the Monarchy; and there’s even a mini-rant about Nadine Dorries and Boris Johnson. Above all, it’s a rant about just how shit England is – which is ironic as we are sitting in one of the three packed NT auditoria with hundreds of shows being performed throughout the country concurrently as part of the greatest theatre scene in the world, allied to the very best music industry, with the play using a backdrop of sport – which, again, we don’t do badly at. I could go on.

Death of England Closing Time at the National Theatre Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Hayley Squires © Feruza Afewerki.
Death of England Closing Time at the National Theatre Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Hayley Squires. © Feruza Afewerki.

As I say, it’s powerful stuff, but as a two-hander, it is full-on with no downtime, no thinking time, and no time to process the validly intense arguments being made. Dyer directs as well and gives us a bright red catwalk in the shape of a St. George Cross as staging – sledgehammers and nuts come to mind. The theatrical convention of ‘the fourth wall’ becomes a kind of ‘fourth wall cubed’ as the four corner areas of ‘the flag have audience members on swivel chairs (copyright Stanislavski) seated below the level of the catwalk. We’ve had kitchen sink drama; we’ve had immersive live theatre; this is what I might term ‘Audience-as-mates’ drama as the swivel chair crew are asked to hold brooms, flowers, scripts, other paraphernalia as well as the actor who isn’t currently ranting sitting on one of the swivels and getting to know those around her. It’s innovative, it works and is supported by superb technical aspects of the show. Benjamin Grant and Pete Malkin as co-sound designers create an electrifying soundscape that utilises football commentary which is audible but not intrusive: clever. Jackie Shemesh’s lighting design complements and enhances the show and whilst the use of smoke combined with light is a theatre (and rock concert) staple the intriguing effect of a dream-like apparition is used with stunning effect.

Sharon Duncan-Brewster is Denise, an accomplished chef with West Indian roots. Her dream, her casual food cafe business, has collapsed and she and her business partner are clearing the premises. Cue, grudges, regrets and recriminations. Duncan-Brewster is passive – and aggressive; she’s nasty – and nice; she has regrets – but there is positivity there as well. She’s particularly hard on her business partner, Carly, who also happens to be her ’daughter-in-sin’ as she puts it – Carly’s partner is Delroy, Denise’s son: they have a baby christened Meghan – a name much to Denise’s chagrin. It’s an exacting, demanding role in which Duncan-Brewster seems to fit perfectly like a knuckle-duster and it’s an intense, vibrant and scintillating performance.

Hayley Squires plays Carly and she is a lively ball of fire, a tornado crashing through people’s lives like there is no tomorrow but she has that born-and-bred East End logic, determination and empathy. Squires is brilliant at this, she gets the character right down to her daddy’s latter-day Alf Garnet-inspired Sun reading racist roots and she gets it across in a dazzling display of how to make a script work, how to establish and develop a character and how to get an audience in the palm of her hand.

These two performers are on sparkling form and give an edge and meaning to what comes across as a rather bitter polemic.

Death of England: Closing Time is the latest in a series of works based around the same families: this is the first I have seen so view it as a stand-alone piece.

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

There are two sides to every story

Grieving the loss of the family shop and their dreams destroyed, Denise and daughter-in-law Carly are left to pick up the pieces of their relatives’ mistakes.

Will all be forgiven?

Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Sex Education) and Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake) play Denise and Carly in this thought-provoking drama that explores family dynamics, race, colonialism and cancel culture.

Clint Dyer (Othello) and Roy Williams (Sucker Punch) reunite to write this powerful new play, the final, standalone chapter of the award-winning Death of England series.

Until 11 November 2023

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  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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