sat 01/10/2022

The End of Eddy, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - powerful but lacking compassion | reviews, news & interviews

The End of Eddy, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - powerful but lacking compassion

The End of Eddy, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - powerful but lacking compassion

An energetic, lithe gig-theatre adaptation of Édouard Louis’s 2014 trauma memoir can't escape the book's limitations

Romijn Scholten, Victor Ijdens, Felix Schellekens and Jesse Mensah in Toneelschuur Producties' 'The End of Eddy'Andrew Perry

Those working-class people really are appalling, aren’t they? Racist, sexist, definitely homophobic, violent too. Thank god our young hero can escape their clutches into the safety of a nice, bourgeois acting academy where he can be his true self.

Okay, the degradations and brutal humiliations inflicted on the gay central character in Édouard Louis’s autobiographical 2014 trauma memoir The End of Eddy are undeniably horrific, and apparently unending. But to call Louis’s portrayal of his working-class background in northern France problematic is a bit of an understatement. He surrounds himself with characters – including his own family – who are sketched in with barely two dimensions, faceless thugs giving him daily beatings at school, fumbling teenage lovers whom he doesn’t deign to even name. He namechecks poverty, joblessness, deprivation, even government indifference as factors behind this cruel, unforgiving environment, but when it comes to calling for empathy, it seems he feels it should travel in just one direction.

The production by Netherlands-based Toneelschuur Producties, part of a residency from Amsterdam’s Internationaal Theater, was the second adaptation of Louis’s story that the Edinburgh International Festival has hosted in recent years. The previous one came from Scottish company Untitled Projects in 2018, and both stagings, like the original book itself, shared these rather questionable perspectives on class and privilege. At least they were both authentic to Louis’s original, though there was the sense in both, too, of a lost opportunity for compassion and understanding.

Both stagings, too, shared a decidedly stylised, non-realistic perspective on Louis’s texts, with a performing duo and agitprop-style captions on a bank of TV screens for Untitled Projects, and for Toneelschuur Producties, a quartet of young, black-and-white Adidas-wearing male actors, seemingly constrained within a claustrophobic, ever shrinking cave of suspended plastic. A street gang, maybe, or even a boy band? More like the latter: Victor Ijdens, Jesse Mensah, Felix Schellekens and Romijn Scholten propelled the show from start to finish with apparently unstoppable energy, splicing director Eline Arbo’s eloquent adaptation with live music and dance numbers, heavy on 1990s synth pop, and providing plenty of light and shade within the overall dark narrative (the UV-lit sex scene must surely count as one of the strangest and most magical imagined for the stage). Ijdens and Mensah were memorably vivid as Eddy’s parents, carefully balancing love for their son with revulsion at his far-from-masculine behaviour. It was a streak of insight that was sometimes lacking in more cartoonish characterisation elsewhere, and the production’s pace and energy, too, allowed little time for reflection.

This End of Eddy is an undeniably powerful show, and a lithe and authentic stage retelling of Louis’s story, now a classic among coming-out, coming-of-age tales. But how much it found insight or subtlety in the work is another question entirely.

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