Unflinching teen adaptation of Édouard Louis’s hard-hitting novel about homophobia in rural France
We know that’s what they’re doing because they tell us: Pamela Carter’s creatively structured adaptation for ages 16-plus (a hit in Edinburgh) is highly self-aware. The performers chat about how the show will work, and the book it’s based on, before they both inhabit the young Eddy – as well as every other character he interacts with.
These transitions and transactions are often played out on screens: four TVs on heavy-duty metal stands are lined across the stage, and show captioned, filmed segments of Eddy’s alcoholic father raging at him, his mother complaining, bullies attacking. They’re all very obviously both Austin and Mills, in the same matching T-shirts and trackies they wear onstage. Although – cutely – the screens do slide up and down, suggesting the looming height of his brother, or hitting the floor when Eddy gets beaten up. The production values of the filmed material aren’t the best, but it’s a fresh staging approach that overall pays off.
Born in 1992, Louis grew up in poverty. But there were four TVs in his house even if there weren’t carpets; his dad hated silence. ‘The End of Eddy’ is bold and unstinting in its unpicking of how poverty causes suffering, which fuels a culture of violence. Wounded masculine pride prompts the desire to crush others, emerging as racism, misogyny, homophobia.
Always effeminate, it is heartbreaking watching the effort ‘Eddy’ puts in to changing his voice, his walk, his passions in order to try to ‘be a man’. Being different makes him a target, and the ever-present threat of violence makes the play as taut as a balloon.
This tension is frequently popped, however: ‘The End of Eddy’ is also funny in its candid recreation of school-day schemes and scrapes. And the constant awareness that this show is using theatre to tell someone else’s life story is managed with a real lightness of touch: aside, that is, from a rather sentimental, unnecessarily spelt-out conversation between Eddy and his father, invented by Carter and tacked needlessly on to the end.
But director Stewart Laing has crafted a warm and winning production, which constantly brings the audience into its fold. It’s also brightly performed: Mills is adorably guileless, and Austin particularly impressive in the way he handles the constant shifts of tone and character. He’s such a vulnerable presence on stage, yet it’s also like he’s putting an arm around the audience, leading them through the story cheerily. And it feels like a good time to hear this story again.