He may be best known these days for writing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but Jack Thorne’s new play about a pair of leftist activist parents and their offspring has a magic all of its own.
Directed by Thorne’s regular collaborator John Tiffany, the first act begins with Sal (Lesley Sharp) and David (David Morrissey) getting their three grown-up children – all named after socialist heroes – together for a meal at their home in Newbury in 1997.
Eldest son Carl (Sam Swainsbury) brings his posh girlfriend Harriet (Zoe Boyle) home to meet the family for the first time, super-bright student Polly (Kate O’Flynn) is back from Cambridge University, and youngest son Tom (Laurie Davidson) has been in trouble at school. It’s fair to say that the gathering doesn’t go smoothly.
After setting up the family dynamic in act one, we get to see how things play out in 2007 and then 2017. To say more would spoil things, but it’s a journey that’s beautifully handled over the play’s interval-less one hour and 50 minutes.
Sharpe’s Sal is a joy to watch, whether she’s over-sharing with Polly about a new mattress (“We never have sex any more because we don’t want to damage the springs…”) or gabbling about Little Chefs while trying to make small talk with Harriet. She’s got great comic timing. Morrissey, meanwhile, gets to twist our emotions during a key speech in the third act.
The story raises interesting questions about privilege, inherited wealth and how different generations judge success over time. In Tiffany’s expert hands, the transitions between the decades become absorbing mini-sagas all of their own.
Those coming to the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs looking for an incisive commentary on British politics over the last thirty years are going to be disappointed. But those who want a wonderfully observed family drama about the changing – and often challenging – relationships between parents and children are in for a treat.
The End of History is at the Royal Court until 10 August