reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 23 May
May used to be a month of celebration. Nowadays it is the month of examinations – those make-or-break tests upon which depend young people’s futures, not to mention their parents’ hopes.
That’s the searing theme of Jonathan Lewis’ new play, in which he leads the four-strong cast as junior Cabinet Minister Mark. He and his publisher wife Charlotte (Imogen Stubbs), in remission from cancer, have ambitions for their son Tom (Mstt Whitchurch) which have Cambridge as a vital stepping stone.
Their trouble is that Tom, a typical teenage bundle of energies and personal aspirations, would rather prefer to work in the arts. Caught up with her own desires, both personal and professional, is Tom’s girlfriend Frida (Robyn Cara). Resolutions prove to be costly affairs, in which more than money and morality are involved.
Director Damian Cruden ratchets up the tension as a series of confrontations builds to a climax. It’s very intense, and Natasha Bertram’s stylish set abets this; these are adults who live in high-profile goldfish bowls, which is not necessarily where the younger generation finds a comfortable environment.
Whitchurch’s performance is central to the York Theatre Royal’s production success with the audience. Most of us have come across someone like that in our family or personal circle. Cara’s is a much more ambiguous character, bringing out a degree of social – as well as financial – insecurity.
One’s heart goes out to Charlotte in Stubbs’ portrait of a career woman who knows she is living on borrowed time. Faced with her pair of strong-minded men, she gives us a woman being shredded emotionally as well as physically.
Mark is another multifaceted personality, with his carapace of success vulnerable to both Parliamentary and personal pressures laid bare. Lewis shows us just how unpleasant, ruthless and selfish such a person can be.
Four and a half-star rating.
The Be All and End All runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 26 May with matinées on 24 and 26 May.