Tuesday, 22 January 2008

How It Ended - Camden People's Theatre

Written for CultureWars.org.uk

How It Ended tells the story of Lillian (Kate Hewitt), a Welsh teenager growing up during World War Two, who meets French trainee RAF pilot, Raymond (Roger Ribo). She marries, falls pregnant, and, at the end of the war, returns with him to France to bring up their child. The tale does not end happily. In fact, as a start to the theatre-going year, one could not have wished for a bleaker outlook. As tragic trajectories go, How It Ended offers nothing less than a sudden and steep decline into total, unbroken, claustrophobic misery, as Lillian is rejected by her sister Nerys (Fran Moulds) and then by her new French mothering-law (a superbly frosty Nathalie Meyer).

It is rare to see something in a theatre these days that is so unapologetically straight-forward, linear and narrative-driven. All the more remarkable given that the piece was devised by the company and director Emily Watson-Howes. The seven-strong company perform the story with an effective mixture of visual theatre techniques and naturalistic acting, with live sound effects provided by members of the cast. In spite of the way in which these devices have been deployed, the actual structure of the scenes is almost wholly cinematic. They are short, contain a salient piece of action, build to a climax and then move on. The result is curiously reminiscent of a (probably European) costume drama. Alternatively, it could easily have been an adaptation from a period novel. That it is an original piece of theatre is most surprising.

It is also interesting that the piece doesn’t appear to be seeking to offer any kind of wider comment or analysis - simply an incredibly depressing story delivered like a punch to the gut. There are no lessons to be learned, no changes to society that could perhaps prevent similar tragedies happening in the future - simply a sense that sometimes the optimism and fearlessness of young love can collapse, leaving the survivors as shattered as those returning from a war.

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