Review: The End of History at St Giles-in-the-Fields Church

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.

Photo credit: Mike Massaro

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.

Photo credit: Mike Massaro

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… 😉

Review: The Mechanicals’ Twelfth Night at St Giles in the Fields

I last saw Scena Mundi Theatre Company performing Twelfth Night at the stunning French Protestant Church in Soho Square earlier this year. This week they were back, in an equally beautiful venue, with a one night only performance of the same play… but a very different adaptation.

Billed as ‘the new masters of concise classics’, the Scena Mundi Mechanicals specialise in short versions of Shakespeare’s plays, inspired by the memorable amateur actors of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s an intriguing and clever concept, which makes Shakespeare’s work very accessible and adds an original twist to a play many of us will have seen a good few times before. As the four actors – Masters Phil, Jack, Ned and Martin – divide up the roles between them, the stage is set for chaos and comedy, featuring a bearded lady, a dodgy wig, floating hats, and of course yellow stockings.

Photo credit: Jim Templeton-Cross
Photo credit: Jim Templeton-Cross

Given the complex storyline of Twelfth Night, director Cecilia Dorland has done well to cut the script down to almost exactly an hour in a way that still makes sense, and leaves us with a whistle-stop tour of all the key points and characters (well, almost – we’re forced to lose Maria, with Sir Toby Belch taking her place as the architect of Malvolio’s downfall). The performance too, with all its swift costume and character changes, is very skilfully executed by the four-man cast of Pip Brignall, Jack Christie, Edward Fisher and Martin Prest, with nicely understated musical support from flautist Emma Hall.

In fact if anything it’s a bit too well executed – the Mechanicals concept is introduced at the beginning but then seems largely forgotten during the play itself, and though there’s the occasional missing prop or actor’s tantrum, the production on the whole is extremely polished. It feels odd to complain that the acting in a play is too good, but what makes the Midsummer Night’s Dream Mechanicals fun to watch is the fact that their performance is so shambolic, and there’s potential in Scena Mundi’s adaptation for even more well-intentioned mayhem. This band of Mechanicals never get their lines wrong, forget which part they’re playing, or stop the performance to explain to the audience what’s going on; the director never has to intervene, and aside from one brief exchange at the beginning of the show, nobody tries to play all the parts. None of which is a bad thing – it just feels like the framing concept could be further developed for maximum comedy value.

scena-mundi-mechanicals-twelfth-night-rehearsals-091
Photo credit: Jim Templeton-Cross

All that said, this is already a highly original and entertaining production of a classic play. As a bite-sized introduction to Twelfth Night, it’s perfect for newcomers to Shakespeare, who might find the usual two-and-a-half or even three-hour stretch a bit much to take. And let’s be honest, it’s always fun to watch good actors acting badly. This one-off performance was the first in a series of events at St Giles in the Fields to launch Scena Mundi’s 2017 season, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the coming months.


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… 😉