Eline Arbo is a director to watch out for as Toneelschuur Producties’ The End of Eddy is an absolute triumph at the Edinburgh International Festival
“Today I’m going to be a fighter”
The End of Eddy is something extraordinary. Directed by Eline Arbo for Toneelschuur Producties and presented here through the aegis of Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, it completely fulfils the remit of being the centre of an International Festival of theatre because you just know that it could never have been made in the UK. Not just because it is based on a novel by a Frenchman Édouard Louis, but because the wiring of the theatrical thinking here is just completely different.
Louis’ semi-biographical tale tells of the challenges of living in a working-class town in Northern France when you’re young and gay. But Arbo has her cast of four share that lead role of Eddy, as well as inhabiting the rough and tumble crowd around him. And it is not so much that we are all Eddy but that we all go through stuff – maybe not as traumatic and heart-wrenching as him – but in being bullied, in fighting with parents, in not fitting in, there’s a universality there that sings through.
There’s also compassion. A recognition that working-class attitudes aren’t something to be dismissed out of hand if they don’t align with our own, for they are shaped by their own struggles in the cycle of poverty and despair. The father kyboshed by a work injury, the mother living in fear, the friends who lash out even as they engage in their own experimentation alongside Eddy. It is a gorgeously fluid and highly engaging piece of theatre and one which I know I’ll not forget for a long time.
Victor IJdens, Jesse Mensah, Felix Schellekens and Romijn Scholten are all outstanding, complementary in performance but supportive in spirit too – the moments when the anguish of trying accept his own homosexuality becomes too much and the burden is shared is stunning, a pointed reminder that the journey of coming out can be angular and messy. And their collective musical talent as they play snatches of Radiohead and others throughout is genius, you’ll never hear ‘Wicked Game’ the same way again.
Juul Dekker’s set design is equally inspired. A shrink-wrapped cave of sorts, you don’t realise how much of a trap it is until the whoosh of the ending. But as it is, it is the ideal backdrop for Arbo’s staging in all its visceral orgies of violence or day-glo actual orgies. What shines through though is the emotional intelligence here, how much we are shaped by the environments we grow up in and how lucky those are that get to escape them.