Play In A Soho Church Fizzes With Humour, Passion And Rage
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Why are you here? a hazy neon sign erected in front of the altar of a Grade I listed Soho church demands in Portuguese, while Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blasts on repeat. There's little time to ponder upon these incongruities, however, because our two barefoot leads have just emerged from the audience, clambering over their small congregation towards the Chancel.
And so begins The End of History. The fruits of an invitation from the rector of St Giles-in-the-Fields to create a site-responsive piece of theatre that draws on this historic pocket of central London. There's Paul, a sashimi-scoffing city slicker who hypes up shiny new property developments by day and revels in London's gay party scene by night. Then there's Wendy, a charity worker and self-confessed bleeding heart liberal reeling from a recent break up. They're two very different strangers facing uncertain futures who have sought solace in St Giles during parallel moments of crisis.
Chris Polick as Paul certainly looks the part; he's got the haircut and swagger of a self-important marketing man down to a T. Sarah Malin's careworn Wendy, whose quiet fury over personal and societal injustices threatens her calm and practical brand of empathy, is similarly convincing. Occasionally, however, their characterisation veers towards cliche; Paul relishes in his rampant materialism a little too heartily, and the musical interludes, with lyrics like "she's one of the good guys’", though tongue-in-cheek, aren't exactly subtle.
Nevertheless, both performances command the audience's attention, fizzing with humour, passion, and rage. Lingering eye contact is maintained as the actors move effortlessly through the space — up in the pulpit one moment, pausing at the centuries-old memorials that line the church walls the next, as they ruminate upon their lives in the city.
Through lengthy monologues, Wendy’s remark that there's never just one London rings true. Even the church itself becomes a symbol of regeneration, revealed to have been built on the remains medieval hospital for lepers. The building was later immortalised in William Hogarth's nightmarish Gin Lane, a print portraying 17th century Soho's liquor-fuelled decadence and deprivation — a modern day version of which a coked-up Paul sees staring back at him in the mirror.
Back in the play's present, luxury property developers commodify this ghoulish history to appease wealthy flat hunters looking for a bit of character in an increasingly gentrified capital. Yet it's simultaneously a city where vulnerable citizens perish come winter. Where homelessness is both sleeping on a Soho street corner and drowning in the bureaucracy of our welfare system while sofa-surfing in Maida Vale.
Such issues, intermingled with the characters' personal dramas, could do with more unpacking than the running time allows, and as a result the production feels somewhat unfocused. Yet strong performances, snappy dialogue, and a stunning setting ultimately save it.
The End of History may not provide many answers when it comes the capital's rampant social inequality, but it does finish on a more hopeful note than its title suggests — with a sentimental message about letting go of preconceptions and forging human connection in a most divided city.
The End of History, St Giles-in-the-Fields, from £16.50, until 23 June
Last Updated 14 June 2018