The End of Eddy (4 stars)

The End of Eddy

credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Book adaptation captures the inner world of adolescent life

Growing up in a small village in northern France, Édouard Louis (or 'Eddy', as he was then known) needed to be a man to survive. And being a 'man', meant being tough, violent, misogynist, racist and, above all, homophobic. Not ideal when you're the only gay in the village.

After five years of merciless bullying, both physical and psychological, Louis eventually got out, moved away, and became the Parisian intellectual he is today. The autobiographical novel charting his adolescence mired in poverty and intolerance is the starting point for Unicorn Theatre and Untitled Projects' adaptation. It's also the end point, as actors Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills stand clutching the book in their hands, reading sections to us.

This breaking of the fourth wall happens throughout, giving The End of Eddy the atmosphere of an animated chat rather than a serious piece of theatre. Austin and Mills both play Eddy, and also take on the roles of his parents, siblings and the bullies who make his life hell. Remarkably, given this constant swapping of roles, it's never unclear who they are at any given time.

Some of this is down to staging – four large television screens with pre-recorded images of Austin and Mills slide up and down to depict height difference, as the different family members interact with Eddy. It makes the narrative crystal clear, but is perhaps less satisfying than seeing the performers embody the characters live in front of us.

The slightly patronising explanations of shame, anger and violence serve as a constant reminder that this show was shaped with younger audiences in mind – although you can't help but wonder if they might feel even more patronised by them.

But nothing can detract from the wonderful performances turned in by Austin and Mills, who without a shred of sentimentality take us to the heart of adolescent confusion and longing, and put poverty and violence so succinctly into context.

The End of Eddy

  • 4 stars

Based on Édouard Louis’ acclaimed autobiographical novel En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, a young boy grows up relentlessly bullied due to his sexuality, and fights to escape his village in rural France.

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