I can see what writers Iain Hollingshead (book and lyrics) and Timothy Muller (music) were trying to do with their show The End of History, and had they managed it the show could potentially have been fantastic. They didn’t. It isn’t.
The problem is this. They’re trying to make three different shows work as a unified whole, but three into one just doesn’t go.
The first show is a musical about teenagers doing the two years coursework leading up to their GCSE’s. As such, this part of the show needs to function as a ‘proper’ musical. For that you need either a single protagonist with a strong want, or a group of protagonists all wanting the same thing (as in A Chorus Line).
Unfortunately (for reasons which will become apparent later) the necessary structure is just not there. In fact, if anything, the students DON’T want to be in the class, and actually couldn’t care less about their future exam prospects. If they don’t care, why should we?
The second show is a revue in which the history that the children are being taught (the end of the First World War to the fall of the Berlin Wall) is acted out and commented on in a series of fast-paced, fact-stuffed, and rather overwhelming, song and dance numbers.
The third show – and I genuinely didn’t realist this until the third number in Act Two – is an allegory of world history from…you guessed it, the end of World War One to the fall of the Berlin Wall… with the relationships between the students being the relationships of countries. So when Andy (Joshua Lewindon) kept cozying up to Beth (Eleanor Shaw) we were supposed to be seeing the US and UK costing up to each other. I didn’t until, quite frankly, I was past caring about anybody.
The big problem with show one and show three is that they are mutually exclusive, certainly as they’re written here.
However, the third show does go a long way to explaining the bizarre and dramatically unhelpful songs of Act One. The third song in (well, the fourth song listed in the programme, song number three has evidently been cut, even though it’s reprised in Act Two) is sung by the character Gary (Daniel Orpwood) who’s been getting quite a lot of stage time, so we start to invest some emotional capital in him.
Our investment is repaid, however, with the sort of song which would be the kiss of death to any musical, especially so early on: one of self-pity.
Self-pity songs ONLY ever work if they are comedy songs. Write it in big letters somewhere and don’t lose the piece of paper.
A mis-fire so early on in the piece had the effect of making me then pay extra attention to all those nasty things which tend to jump out, but which can often be forgiven when a show works: The mis-stressed setting of the words to music (it felt very often that composer and lyricist were writing two different shows): And those rhymes, or rather lack of them. ‘People’ does not rhyme with ‘sequel’. ‘Beauty’ does not rhyme with ‘loopy’. ‘Special’ does not rhyme with ‘settle’. And don’t even get me started on the number of times a singular, (like ‘down’ for example) was ‘rhymed’ with a plural (like ‘towns’).
I’m sorry, guys, you need to work on your craft as writers. All this is a real shame because, as I said, if the show had worked it could have been great.
For the acting talent on display, congratulations. It’s evident that you were all working your socks off. It’s only up from here…
- Director & Choreographer Jessica Dawes Harrison
- Book & Lyrics: Iain Hollingshead
- Music: Timothy Muller
- Cast includes: Joseph Aldous, Alexandra Anfield, Sylvie Briggs, Charlie Burt, Joshua Lewindon, Daniel Orpwood, Eleanor Shaw, Anya Williams
- Tristan Bates Theatre, London
- Until 2 December 2017
- Review by Richard Voyce
- 19 November 2017