The Theatreguide.London Review
The End Of The World (Except For The End Of The World)
Finborough Theatre Spring 2013
Bekah Brunstetter wrote this play for teenage actors to perform for teenage audiences, and as such it has much to recommend it, addressing the real concerns of kids in an imaginative way that will hold their interest.
Whether it has much to offer paying adult audiences is another question.
Brunstetter introduces us to a cross-section of high school students, from cool kids and jocks to nerds and outcasts, and shows us that they all struggle under the weight of burdens both common (exams, college applications, parental expectations) and individual.
Compounding their problems, and adding an engaging science fiction element to the story, is the introduction of two experimental androids, to see if they can fit in with the real kids, and compounding that even further is a film crew making a documentary about the experiment and not giving anyone much chance to act naturally.
So, as we get to know the kids, we discover (not all that surprisingly) that they're a little more complex than their initial impressions. The most popular girl has insecurities, the jock isn't sure about his sexuality, the brassy one is a softy at the core. The two nerdiest kids find each other in a friendship that lets them laugh at the cool kids, while the openly gay boy and the slutty girl form another supportive alliance.
Meanwhile the androids, at first figures of fun as they get everything from slang to dance moves just wrong enough to be comical, try their best to become more human and in the process become more sympathetic.
A cast in their twenties are not particularly stretched by playing eighteen-year-olds, especially when almost every character has the same arc, an immediate impression then leavened by the discovery of a stronger or more vulnerable interior.
In some ways this play is immune from conventional criticism, because it is more an educational tool than a theatre piece. You can practically write the inevitable Discussion Guide For Teachers as you watch it. (Do you know anyone who was typecast in Junior High and stuck with that label like Esther? Is it possible to be too popular, like Jessica? Might a foreign exchange student at your school feel something like Godfrey and Olive? What do you think everyone is going to do after the end of the play?)
The play does what it set out to do. It addresses the sorts of things that adolescents worry about, and skilfully leaves enough room in the plot and characterisations for an adolescent audience to respond and bring the story closer to their own thoughts and concerns.
It just would be far more at home in a school auditorium than a fringe theatre.
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