Unicorn Theatre, London – until 6 October 2018
The End of Eddy, starring Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills (in his professional debut) star in this tale of growing up poor, an outsider in a rural France. They play Eddy Belleguelle, an effeminate boy growing up in a world of violence and poverty and they also play his family members; his mother who dedicated her life to her five children, his alcoholic father who is emasculated when an accident leaves him unable to provide for his family and their older, angry brother who finds himself heading towards the same fate as his father. Eddy wants more; he wants to fit in with the masculine and highly sexed world he finds himself in and he wants to escape.
Adapted by Pamela Carter from Edouard Louis’ autobiographical novel, Stewart Laing’s direction for the piece sees some innovative use of video and sound to ensure the two actors can cover this sprawling world of expectations yet also insular world of Eddy’s.
The issue is that this is a very adult book but this is a show aimed at teenagers. It wants to send a message that it is fine to be who you want to be but is also conscious of being graphic; swear words are beeped out, sexual descriptions, as Eddy is underage throughout, are kept to a minimum, which is a shame because Eddy’s early sexual experiences (he and a male cousin re-creating what they saw in a pornography with two friends because they have no females around) gives a great glimpse in sexuality, gender, and what is acceptable when people think you are heterosexual. As with much of the play, it is a scene with humour, warmth, anger and sadness.
Ultimately this feels more like an interpretation of the book; actors break character to explain comments in the book. “Suffering is Totalitarian” is a comment that needs to be analysed, it is apt but it then goes all visiting theatre company when it decides to explain what poverty is; I am sure many of the audience don’t know what poverty is day to day but for us that do it is unnecessarily patronising. It doesn’t have faith in the story to ensure working class France is depicted. This could be the next Curious Incident of the Night Time if it wasn’t afraid to treat its teenager audience like the adults they will become.
It admittedly makes up scenes, which feels a great disservice to what an adaptor should do. There often is a frustration to show, not tell Eddy’s story but what makes this 90 minute production exceptional are the performances from Mills and Austin, who interpret their characters in different ways yet feel connected. I will be surprised and disappointed not to see these actors in the future.
There is a great chemistry between the two actors and they kept an audience enthralled but as a story it feels like a very elaborate attempt to get people to read the book, I think those unfamiliar will enjoy this adaptation but those who have loved The End of Eddy or Louis’ other works may be disappointed by this production.
The End of Eddy is on until 6 October https://www.unicorntheatre.com/TheEndOfEddy