REVIEW: The End of Eddy – Melbourne Festival

The End of Eddy by Pamela Carter is based on the book En finir avec Eddy Belleguele, a memoir by Edouard Louis about growing up gay and poor in a small French village.

Normally I would describe the world of a play before I get to the credits and give a sense of the kind of story you’re going to see. But this production is as much about adapting the book into theatre as it is about Eddy himself.

Two performers, Oseloka Obi and James Russell-Morley, play Eddy and all the other characters – sometimes on stage and sometimes on one of four video screens. There were four televisions in Eddy’s house when he grew you, you see. It’s that kind of production, too.

The actors also take their time to explain the differences between the book and the play: you can’t fit everything from a book into ninety minutes on stage, and theatre has different responsibilities than books, too, apparently. The show makes statements like this and never really explores them. They fundamentally change one of the final scenes of the book to make it more theatrical – and rob the story of some of its poignancy.

Pamela Carter and director Stuart Laing have teamed up with Unicorn Theatre, one of the UK’s premiere theatre companies making work for young audiences. And this work does feel aimed at teenagers, while also missing the mark. This production is at times inventive and at times held back by its Brechtian aesthetic. Yes, there is fun to be had with live performers interacting with TV screens, but also that felt like a barrier to connecting with Eddy and his situation. It was certainly a barrier to connecting with moments played at the bus stop at the back of the stage.

I laughed out loud a few times and I was fascinated by a few fleeting details about life in the French countryside versus the cosmopolitan view of France I have through films and novels set in Paris. There’s a moment late in the play where Eddy describes a moment of affection – a kiss on both cheeks – that is a world away from his home town, but evocative of the kind of thing I associate with the French. That’s the kind of detail that is rare in this show, with a UK production translating the work into British slang and making me wish I was getting a better insight into Eddy’s real life.

There are some universal truths in the play about toxic masculinity and how brutal society can be to those in the country, those who are poor and those who aren’t heterosexual. The End of Eddy tries to tell a story that’s at the intersection of these things but doesn’t really illuminate any of them.

I watched this show mostly as a theatre maker, trying to understand the choices being made, because I couldn’t engage that much as a viewer. I was stuck in my head, trying to understand why this adaptation works the way it does, because I rarely felt anything. And I should have felt something. Feeling like an outsider in high school is my story, too.