The Endling is an intriguing piece that has a tough message all wrapped up in its funny, quirky, performance style. It revolves around a simple idea: how would you feel if you were the last person (an Endling) on your last day on Earth? Devised by Jane George, Matthew Simmonds and William Moore for Strange Futures, The Endling takes an offbeat trip into the subject of species extinction. The show imagines the small, nondescript details of daily life on a devastated planet. And it is these details that encourage us to see just how life changing species extinction—all species, not just our own—on this planet of ours, could be.
The Endling begins simply enough. A man lies inert on stage, and seems to be sleeping. Another man enters, and is surprised to find him. He had thought he was the last man on Earth. Through a series of questions, we learn that the first man has lost his memory, and — just as significant —he has forgotten the names of everything. The second man attempts to help him. “What’s your favourite colour?” And then the realization. “Where’s all the green gone?” and then “All the birdsong has gone.” Clearly, something catastrophic has happened. The performers turn to the audience and explain that the narrative they are performing is not linear. But they are going to present a story about the last ten years in which everything has disappeared. And they are going to reinvent language to tell this story. Apparently humans — “the two legged ones with frowns on their faces and crispy skins” — are to blame for all this disappearance. From this beginning, Simmonds and Moore embark on a wild and wacky journey—often told from various animals’ points of view.
The ways in which Simmonds and Moore enact their story in The Endling, turning themselves into animals, and even song and dance men at one point, is quite wonderful. The dialogue is inspired, and revolves around a whole series of running gags about reinventing language to describe creatures who have forgotten who they are. The Endling ends where you’d expect—on the very last day of existence—but the whole show is a captivating trip designed to make you think as well as chuckle. If there’s a weakness in The Endling, it comes from a few moments where the energy begins to flag. And that’s hardly surprising when you consider how much material this company has packed into the script.
The Endling is about the right length for a touring show, and it’s sensitively created for a variety of audiences. It’s a great jumping off point for discussion about species extinction, and should be a popular choice for venues looking for a show of this kind. Recommended.
Reviewed 6th August 2022
by Dominica Plummer
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“Rhum + Clay have presented us with a rumination rather than a finished thought”
On first leaving the auditorium, I really have no idea what I just watched. And the journey home doesn’t lend much clarity to be honest. But for the sake of explaining it to you: In the first half, Spooner and Wells play-act a tyrannical take-over, and in the second, they themselves suffer under a tyrant. But this is a major over-clarification; the story itself feels a lot more bewildering.
In the first half, co-creators, directors and performers Julian Spooner and Matt Wells perform a play within the play which Wells’ character has written, in which he plays a good politician, i.e a boring one who talks about policy and does what he says he’ll do. But Spooner is dissatisfied, feeling the show should be more ‘fun’, so he forcibly takes over as an idiot tyrant, getting more and more tyrannical.
It feels very chaotic in a ‘The Play that Goes Wrong/One Man Two Guvnors’ kind of vibe, and I’m initially concerned that this slapstick-style broad comedy will last the whole 75 minutes. But that concern is overtaken by fear, as Spooner becomes more and more aggressive about audience participation, peaking as he demands everyone repeats after him, “This is a fun show” and so on. He then gets stroppy that not everyone is joining in, and demands that anyone sitting next to someone not joining in puts their hand up. In this way it’s very affecting: I’m suddenly genuinely fearful of my neighbour, and toy with joining in just so I’m not dragged to the front and shamed.
In the second half, the two appear in their underwear, and an overhead voice orders them to perform mime acts in full clown costume while having no communication between each other. The sudden and utter change in tone is initially very affecting: the genuinely beautifully choreographed mime acts combine with Khaled Kurbeh’s ominous soundtrack to create a very compelling and menacing mystery. Who is making the orders? What are they threatening if they’re disobeyed? But much like the excessive chaos in the first act, excessive mystery in the second grows tiring.
As one has come to expect from a Rhum + Clay production, the performances are high energy, high intensity and compelling in themselves. Kurbeh’s accompanying music, a synth-heavy soundscape with use of a small drum kit, is bizarre but fitting. And Blythe Brett’s design is perfectly restrained: Besides a small misbehaving LED sign and a trolly full of props, the only major stage design is a semi-shear curtain which descends after the first act and, with the help of a light shining through, shows a glimpse of the performers’ backstage relationship as well as the sudden changing of pace and atmosphere. It then becomes opaque when the light is shut off. It’s a very simple idea but brilliant. The Pierrot clown costumes in the second half are also a very clever decision: whilst being forced to dress as clowns should seem ridiculous if sinister, Pierrot’s white face paint and loose white clothes lend it an immediate pathos; Spooner and Wells seem tragically trapped.
The problem is not in the execution of the idea, but in the idea itself: it needs a plot. Rhum + Clay have presented us with a rumination rather than a finished thought.