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Review: The End of History, Royal Court - rebellious children, parental legacy and a sentimental misstep

While Sal and David may be passionate about righting the wrongs of the world and creating a more equal and inclusive society, when it comes to embarrassing their children it's a different matter.

Royal Court The End of History photo johan persson
The End of History, Royal Court. Photo Johan Persson.

Writer Jack Thorne and John Tiffany last worked together on the Harry Potter plays but family dynamics is the only parallel with The End of History at the Royal Court.

The play is set during three family gatherings in 1997, 2007 and 2017, in the Newbury home of Sal (Lesley Sharp) and David (David Morrissey).

They are left-leaning liberals who've brought their children up to be inquisitive and be socially aware.

Elder children Carl (Sam Swainsbury) and Polly (Kate O'Flynn) are at good universities and younger sibling Tom (Laurie Davidson) is still at school but when they come together it is a mixture of banter, jibes and warm familial bonds.

Views take their toll

Sal and David's liberal approach to parenting combined with their rigid views on social justice has taken its toll on their children.

In the first act, the gathering is to meet Carl's new girlfriend Harriet (Zoe Boyle). Behind closed doors, the kids are almost used to their parent's frank revelations and views but it is a different matter when Harriet arrives. 

The fact that she comes from money is an itch that Sal, in particular, just can't help scratching with amusingly cringe-worthy consequences.

The end of history royal court johan persson
Kate O'Flynn, Sam Swainsbury and Laurie Davidson in The End of History, Royal Court. Photo: Johan Persson.

Morrissey's David is a dad who likes to hide behind the paper until piqued and then he's off and making trampling judgements.

While Sal and David may be passionate about righting the wrongs of the world and creating a more equal and inclusive society when it comes to embarrassing their children it's a different matter.

Divisive announcement

The second meeting 10 years later sees Sal and David gathering the family together to make an announcement which causes further divide.

In these first two gatherings you really get to see the family dynamic - and flaws - at work, the comfort of the in-jokes and little routines combined with years old grudges and irritation.

Sal and David's misstep as parents is the emphasis they place on their children being part of their legacy.

David Morrissey and lesley sharp the end of history johan persson
David Morrissey and Lesley Sharp in The End of History. Photo: Johan Persson.

They judge their achievements based on their own values and beliefs and whether their offspring are making a difference but how do you enact change otherwise?

Polly, the golden child, gets into Cambridge to study law but while Sal and David imagine her presiding over landmark cases and dishing out social justice she chooses a very different branch of the law that seems almost entirely an act of rebellion. 

Carl's own quiet rebellion is to marry his rich girlfriend and work in her dad's business.

Cry for help

Tom is just one big cry for help, still at school at the start of the play he's in trouble for dealing drugs and is far more sensitive than his laissez-faire attitude implies.

At the end of the second act, the narrative takes a rather unpleasing twist - unpleasing because it's a narrative trope that feels overexploited in modern theatre.

Up to this point, the characters have been nicely teased out and individual relationships cleverly drawn but the final act, when the family meet for the third time is veiled in sentimentality.

Feels designed to manipulate

Tonally at odds with the rest of the play, it feels designed to manipulate emotions rather than address the issues raised by the preceding narrative.

It is clunk in a play that otherwise fizzes with natural dialogue. And, it is matched by John Tiffany's direction which avoids being static while not giving the impression that the actors are being moved around the stage.

The End of History is at the Royal Court Theatre until August 10 and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️ and a half. It is an hour and 50 minutes without an interval.

You might also like to read:

The battle of the comedies: Noises Off vs Present Laughter.

Last saw David Morrissey in Julius Caesar at the Bridge and it was a rock and roll and riotous production.