A huge white plastic sheet is held by ropes, semi-suspended above the stage of the Church Hill Theatre. Is it a snowy mountain range? A collapsed parachute? A mangled tent? A series of electronic beeps play on a loop, like a melodic heart monitor, and tonight’s four performers linger at the rear of the stage, chatting and watching us. As the lights dim and the ropes are raised on pullies, the plastic creates an icy cavern revealing instruments and equipment which are then used to perform a haunting electronic prologue to pull us in.
The End of Eddy is an adaptation of Édouard Louis‘s award-winning debut novel chronicling his upbringing in France in the nineties and noughties. Tonight, no single actor takes on the role of Eddy alone. Instead, all four actors play him at various points meaning Eddy is almost an ethereal presence. Being represented by different actors at different stages in life also highlights how versatile he had to be, changing his behaviour to suit those around him – especially when his father loathed his flamboyant tendencies and he was bullied relentlessly at school for appearing to be gay.
Sometimes Eddy narrates and sometimes his life is portrayed in vignettes as the actors switch roles almost imperceptibly. The narrative focuses on his childhood and adolescence, growing up gay in a homophobic world, facing abuse from family and peers, and discovering – and denying – his sexuality. It culminates in an explicit, brutal scene which is arresting and transfixing thanks to the use of ultraviolet lighting effects and some finely executed choreography.
There are countless successful elements at play here. A live soundtrack is created onstage by the multi-talented performers who sing and play various instruments. The sound of the songs is haunting, low-key electronica, sometimes drifting into rock with a focus on reverberating falsetto vocals and gentle piano. It combines beautifully to create an ethereal, melancholy atmosphere. The script itself is frank and gritty and there is perfectly placed dark humour which effectively juxtaposes and therefore amplifies the harsh realities of Eddy’s adolescence. The cast themselves – Victor Ijdens, Jesse Mensah, Felix Schellekens, and Romijn Scholten – are the standout ingredient, though. They perform with integrity in what is a physically and emotionally challenging piece. As well as delivering lines with authenticity, singing, and playing instruments, they also move in perfectly-rehearsed motion with elements of contemporary dance. At other times their interactions are manic and violent. It all creates the impression of Eddy’s inner world – at times tormented and chaotic, at others camp and uninhibited.
In short, the performances are electric. The End of Eddy is a magnetic play exploring youth and the psychological damage dealt to societal outsiders. As Eddy himself says, “I’m telling you this to show what we don’t see.”