This is the world premiere of a play with challenging themes – and is an excellent choice by York Theatre Royal artistic director Damian Cruden.
An interrogation of our morals, The Be All & End All is thought provoking and as such, balances the season nicely.
The Be All & End All
York Theatre Royal
Till Sat May 19
The question at the heart of the play is: how far you would go to secure that all important A level grade A*?
Imagine the mark is for your child. We all know how competitive entrance to the top universities is. Would you cheat? Manipulate? How could you justify such deception?
And what is most important… how could you?
Labyrinth of deceit
The play deals with what is superficially a happy and successful family and examines how they are drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit.
They already have privilege and power so why can they not trust in the system? What makes them so sickeningly afraid of what they see as failure?
The play itself is a real family affair. It is written by Jonathan Lewis who also appears in the piece under his stage name of Jonathan Guy Lewis.
He plays the Tory minister husband of Imogen Stubbs who is, in fact, his partner in real life.
As the piece unfolds the motives and driving forces behind their actions spiral towards a very clear and tragic conclusion.
Lewis, as Mark, is essentially a political ‘fixer’ and plays the confident and entitled character with supreme conviction.
When he finally breaks it is violent and uncontrolled. Imogen Stubbs as his wife Charlotte is similarly privileged but shows no insight.
Her blind devotion to the cult of success means that she offers a solution to every problem and has produced a totally dependent son.
He is played with clever ambivalence by Matt Whitchurch: a self-harming, confused individual who manages to manipulate his girlfriend Frida to pity and love him for his weakness. His vulnerability is key.
Subtlety and precision
Robyn Cara plays her part as the girlfriend with intensity – she is the ‘scholarship girl’ who corrects his father’s Latin and his mother’s use of a split infinitive but her earnest desire to help is her weakness and facilitates the climax of the drama.
Damian Cruden directs with an intelligently deft touch, never allowing the action on stage to overpower or dictate the audience’s response. When there is a denouement we feel the shock of discovery and are led skilfully to the next event.
Charlotte’s cancer treatment is handled sensitively as are the other issues. But I won’t tell you any more, suffice it to say, that whatever happens is presented with subtlety and precision.
The designer has created a smart kitchen and lounge which gradually become more and more dishevelled as the action unfolds, A mess of bottles, money and stained cloths litter the stage.
Being found out
The Be All & End All deals with issues which beg to be explored and are sustained by the superb quality of the acting.
It begins by talking about the universal problem of exams, ambition and the stress people bring upon themselves and ends by telling us so much more about love, dependency and the need to be heard.
It is a play which questions the dishonest self-serving politics of our time and suggests that while we can try to influence destiny, altering it is essentially much more difficult.
As Mark says everyone is cheating… it is being found out which causes the problem.