St Giles-in-the-Fields Church is a beautiful and historic building in the heart of central London. In any other location it would no doubt be much admired, but amidst the shops, bars, restaurants, theatres and seemingly endless redevelopment work of Soho, it proves surprisingly easy to overlook.
The End of History was written by Marcelo Dos Santos specifically for and about the church, and explores the building’s relationship with its local community in the face of the area’s rapid and relentless gentrification. It does so through the chance encounter of two very different Londoners, who are both drawn to the church on the same day as they face life-changing personal crises. One – Wendy, an art therapist working with the homeless, is all too aware of the church and the sanctuary it offers to those in need. The other – Paul, a real estate marketer who works hard and plays harder – has never really given it a lot of thought, except as a redevelopment opportunity.
On paper, there’s no competition – the characters even observe themselves that “she’s a good guy… he’s a bad guy” – but Dos Santos’ play is more subtle than it first appears. In Wendy’s eyes, Paul and people like him are responsible for all the negative changes that have taken place over the years in her beloved city, and she blames him by extension for the perilous housing situation in which she currently finds herself. In fact she’s so blinded by her rage that she misses all the signs that Paul’s going through a pretty major crisis of his own. Her lack of empathy as he gradually crumbles only serves to give ours a boost, and by the time the play ends the line between good guy and bad is considerably less clear.
The result of this is that we ultimately end up with two convincing, complex human beings, nicely played by Sarah Malin and Chris Polick, who finally look up from the chaos of their own lives and share a touching moment of human contact. After an hour’s build-up, the encounter itself is brief and not particularly dramatic or life-changing, but it doesn’t need to be; it’s just two lonely people making a connection when they need it most, and expect it least.
Directed by Gemma Kerr, the site-specific production takes full advantage of the unconventional setting, with the actors roaming all over the church (and occasionally climbing over audience members). This leads to a few awkward sight lines and occasional acoustic issues, particularly during Edward Lewis’ quietly charming musical numbers. But that’s a small price to pay to see the play performed in such a unique and visually stunning venue that really means something to the piece as a whole.
Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉