Performed at St Giles-in-the-Fields in the West End of London, we’re seated on pews in the presence of Christ, a beautiful stain glass image which casts itself over High Hearted History’s latest site-specific work, The End of History. A collaboration between Gemma Kerr (Director), Marcelo Dos Santos (Text and Lyrics) and Edward Lewis (Composer), two strangers in Soho, Wendy and Paul (Sarah Malin and Chris Polick) tell us the stories of who they are and how their lives came to a cross, in the midst of a city that never stops moving.
Interweaving song, storytelling, whilst integrating itself into the heart of this historic religious building, the play grapples with the unlikely interaction of strangers amongst themes of homelessness, gentrification and gay dating culture in an ever-changing London that marks the end of history and the start of re-writing the present.
Much of the narrative is spoken in the third person, as Malin and Polick narrate their stories whilst slipping in and out of being the characters. What this does, in essence, is distance us and the actors further away from the characters at the centre of the story, and we’re not given much of a chance to identify with or draw ourselves into their lives; this makes it challenging to sympathise or connect with their stories. At the same time, the narrative itself relies too heavily on moments and feelings and not enough on action and incidents; the most intriguing moment is the intersecting point in their lives, as Wendy drops her bag and everything in it at the top of an escalator, and Paul turns around and swears at her. This is the moment that forms the crux of the play, but the before and after are wholly uneventful and lacking in imagery.
Then there are awkward moments that seem like jarring choices: the oranges which fall from above and crash to the floor with no real impact; Polick climbing over the pews in between the audience, or a moment when he makes a male audience member feel uncomfortable by asking him about something to do with sex or dating.
Lewis’s music is nice enough but contrasts the setting with no apparent purpose and could really benefit from a live musician to take full advantage of the echoing acoustics of the church. The lyrics are kept simple, but unlike a nuanced simplicity, which hides complex, emotional matter behind sophisticated, delicate language, the lyrics as a whole are overly expositional and on the surface. A complaint from Polick about suffering from IBS and too many texts from RBS is a rhyme that sticks in the memory, but other than a few cleverly composed snippets, the lyrics are often just unnecessary.
There’s also something about the songs that don’t quite fit with the show. Bursting into song is cheesy enough at the best of times, but something about the intimacy of this audience in this site-specific space means that the songs take themselves too seriously.
This story is supposed to be close to reality, exploring actual issues in modern London living, and moments of traditional musical theatre, or other seemingly unrealistic elements – Polick’s breaking down into tears at the end, for example – just don’t fit with the site-specific form. They make us feel uncomfortable.
Ultimately, I think this play just tries to tackle too many ideas and ends up neither creating intrigue or nuance. There are times when it implies exploration into the church’s position at the centre of a gentrified landscape but doesn’t urge a sense of protest or open up anything new for its audience. Where this play could thrive is in its human storytelling – the things that link our two characters together – but it loses itself in an epic exploration which only touches on the surface of what apparently are its central themes.
Review by Joseph Winer
She’d seen him before;
pink shirt, dark hair, grey suit… jaw.
Oh yes, she’d seen him before.
He couldn’t quite place her face.
What happens when two totally different Londoners find themselves face to face on the worst day of their lives?
Paul is a gay party boy working in property, Wendy is a single, 50-year-old working in the charity sector. They belong to two different London’s but have one thing in common; they’re both alone in the city.
Staged off-site at St Giles in-the-Fields church in Soho, this specially-created play with music, by High Hearted Theatre in association with Soho Theatre, takes a chance encounter to explore the impact of gentrification on two totally different individuals.
A new play by Marcelo Dos Santos.
Director: Gemma Kerr
Writer: Marcelo Dos Santos
Composer and sound designer: Ed Lewis
Producer: Grace Okereke
Cast: Sarah Malin and Chris Polick
High Hearted Theatre in association with Soho Theatre present
THE END OF HISTORY
A site-specific show at the historic St Giles-in-the-Fields
5th – 23rd June 2018
Please note this production takes place at St Giles-in-the-Fields Church, and tickets are collected there. 60 St Giles High St, London, WC2H 8LG.
Box Office: Tel: 020 7488 0100
Online: www.sohotheatre.com or at www.highhearted.com