King's Head Theatre (venue)
29 August 2019 (released)
30 August 2019
"James Corley's debut play is a deceptively gentle and achingly tender portrait of lives lived in the heart of the city, yet squarely on the world's edges" according to the promototional material. It certainly has all the possibility and promise to do this, but in the end, falls somewhat short of delivering it.
Set in London through 1998 to Summer 1999, two single parent families find themselves living next door. They come from very different backgrounds and both are struggling with loss and conflict from different viewpoints and nationalities. The two boys escape their troubled lives through Nintendo games, and more specifically Zelda. This shared passion is a catalyst to them developing a much closer loving relationship.
The performances from all four actors are very strong. As the two boys Ben (Tom Milligan) and Besnik (Mirlind Bega) embody their characters extremely well. Tom's journey from stutteringly shy nervousness, to a blossoming confidence, adds much to the humour and pathos of their relationship. Mirlind delivers a sensitive gay bravado that is covering over the hurt of a very troubled childhood in Kosovo. Patricia Potter brings all the neuroses of Viv, Ben's mother, to the fore and real tenderness when she deals with loss. Nikolaos Brahimllari, as Besnik's father Ylli, excels in the desperate struggles and guilt he has, when seeing his home of Kosovo at War only through the lens of the TV. Whilst, at the same time trying to control his extremist views, and find his worth in London.
The multi-locations within the play are made more tricky to follow on a set that is much more specific to the opening scene, but the confidence and creative direction of Harry Mackrill makes the production fluid and engrossing.
As a debut play there is much to applaud. It has a strong sense of characters, with sharp writing that demonstrates a good balance between pathos and humour. The clever device of using the video game to create the connection, conflict and love in the boy's relationship is an interesting angle. However, all the characters reveal their flaws a little too readily, and there is so much back story that there isn't the space to fully develop the 'now' in the play. This meant that the central gay relationship felt rushed, and not given enough time to explore the complexities of first love.
It is very difficult to not compare this with Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey where he deals with a similar location and scenario so well. So it poses the question what is World's End showing us that that didn't?