The End of Eddy (EIF)

August 21, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Enthusiastic

Church Hill Theatre (EIF): Fri 19 – Sun 21 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The End of Eddy’s unflinching examination of small-town prejudice is done with verve and humour at the Church Hill Theatre as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Edouard Louis’s autobiographical coming-of-age novel of 2014 has been adapted for the International Festival before, by Unicorn Theatre and Untitled Projects for an impressive, stripped-back version in 2018. Toneelschuur Producties’ version, part of the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam’s residency is very different, although just as experimental. It has as a compelling nature that is only partially undone by an over-exuberant presentation.

The End of Eddy. Pic: Andrew Perry.

Published originally in French as En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, and known in Dutch as Weg mit Eddy Bellegueule, the book describes the childhood teenage years of a gay man in a Northern French village.

The portrait of prejudice he encounters is presented as part of a larger evocation of a destroyed industrial heartland, once the stronghold of the left but now prey to the populist forces of intolerance.

As a result, the warnings of ‘strong language, nudity, and depictions of racism and homophobia’ are not idle threats. Not so many years ago, four naked men writhing on an International Festival stage, smothering each other in fluorescent goo, would have been unthinkable. Here, however, it seems perfectly natural as part of a production of considerable wit and invention.

adding pace

Four performers – Victor Ijdens, Jesse Mensah, Felix Schellekens and Romijn Scholten – share the role of Eddy as well as playing all the other parts. This has the effect of making Eddy’s story more universal, as well as adding pace to the production.

Choreography and lashings of 90s synth-pop performed live also add sparkle, although the too-prominent role given to versions of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game is a definite mis-step.

The End of Eddy. Pic: Andrew Perry.

The noisy, expansive approach does threaten to move it towards end-of-the-pier territory at times. The portrayals of poverty, homophobia and violence are often done in such a primary-coloured, emphatic way that there is little grit.

The distancing effect of a foreign-language production with surtitles is often over-stressed, but here it is definitely an issue. Perhaps it is the fact that this is a story set in France, yet performed in Dutch – apart from the songs, which are in English, and the excerpt from Shakespeare. Which is in the original French, of course.

It is also partly the Dutch itself, which is a language we tend not to hear, and is different enough to sound foreign, yet familiar enough to cause (unintended) humour. Witness Eddy’s repeated statement that he will become a ‘fighter’ which is ‘vechter’ with the ‘v’ pronounced as an ‘f’, leading to unavoidable echoes of Oor Wullie.

an exhilarating ride

None of which, of course, is the fault of the adapters, director Eline Arbo and dramaturg Thomas Lamers. Arbo’s direction is thoroughly assured yet seems constantly on the edge of falling apart, which leads to an exhilarating ride. Juul Dekkers’s design – a massive plastic cave, hoisted and lowered by ropes – is another impressive feat. Varja Klosse’s lighting and Thijs van Vuure’s music help immerse the audience in the production’s noisy world.

It is all done with the maximum of enthusiasm, but the lack of light and shade does mean that a certain profundity is lacking.

Running time 1 hour 35 minutes (no interval)
Part of the Edinburgh international Festival
Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Friday 19 – Sunday 21 August 2022
Daily at 7.30 pm
Matinee Sat 2.30 pm

Information and tickets: Book here.

The End of Eddy. Pic: Andrew Perry.

ENDS

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