High Hearted Theatre are the latest company to make St Giles-in-the-Fields their home, using it as a performance space for Marcelo Dos Santos’ latest play, The End of History. It’s actually being used in a site-specific manner, as the story centres on the meeting of two people in this very church – it represents an intersection between poverty and wealth, history and the future, native Londoners and newcomers. Using a combination of spoken word and song, the play considers the personal stories that lie behind the bigger picture.
Wendy (a born and bred Londoner) works for a local charity, but the art classes she provides are at serious risk of being discontinued as funding cuts start to bite. To top things off, she’s recently ended her relationship with her boyfriend Dave, and in moving out of his flat she has made herself “intentionally homeless”; she’s been staying with a friend in Maida Vale, but increasingly feels like she’s outstaying her welcome. Paul (who’s moved to London for work) is in the property industry, working to develop rundown areas – or gentrify them, depending on your perspective. After initially enjoying himself he began to feel trapped, leading to a mistake that now threatens to derail his life entirely. Both Wendy and Paul are at something of a crossroads, and find themselves taking shelter in St Giles.
The End of History is a slightly curious piece, though I don’t mean that in a bad way. It is mostly spoken word, occasionally rhyming, but every now and then the pair start singing instead – these songs do provide variety and some nice little interludes, but in some ways they do feel a little superfluous. However, then something like Strangers in Soho comes along and it’s perfect as an emotional release for them. This approach certainly lends a unique feel to the show, and makes the most of the surroundings.
Gemma Kerr’s direction brings Paul and Wendy in and out of the audience, exploring as much of the space as possible. It’s occasionally not great on your neck as you strain to watch one or other of them, but in turn it does make you feel like you are involved in the action somehow – complicit and confided in, part of the environment.
Sarah Malin and Chris Polick are perfectly cast as Wendy and Paul. They work really well together; their initial encounter frosty and full of frustration, eventually thawing and coming to see each other for who they really are. Their singing voices also combine well, providing some lovely harmonies as they come together in song. Polick’s performance is particularly affecting, as Paul’s facade crumbles and only a scared little boy remains.
What starts out as something that seems to be a political and social statement – with talk of gentrification, economics and feeling at home in London – actually turns into something a little more personal. It’s a reflection on the judgements and generalisations we make, and how you can never be sure what’s going on beneath the surface; a fancy suit doesn’t mean you’re not going through something, and working for a charity doesn’t make you a full-time saint. We all have our flaws, but we just need to find our own ways of dealing with that.
My verdict? A curious but compelling play, with emotional depth and more than a hint of social commentary – an evening that will stay with you.
The End of History runs at St Giles-in-the-Fields until 23 June 2018. Tickets are available through the Soho Theatre website or on the door.