Edinburgh Fringe 2021
Tom and Marley meet by chance whilst cooling their heels as they wait interminably for a District Line train to show up. But who exactly are they and how did they get to where they are right now?
“We regret to advise you that the next District Line train is delayed by fourteen minutes” is a statement disappointingly familiar to anyone living and/or working in London who has to rely on the capital’s overloaded and creaking infrastructure.
Tom (Will Chambers) joins Marley (Josie Francis) on the platform and commits the ultimate faux pas in terms of tube travel etiquette by smiling at her. Cue instant anxiety and mental anguish on her part, apologies and a promise not to do something so silly again on his.
But a connection has been made, albeit tenuous and Tom is not easily deterred. Naturally friendly and gently inquisitive, it’s he that opens up first. Tom grew up in rural Cornwall, worlds away from the crowded, fast paced city life in which he now finds himself and that he now views as claustrophobic and limiting, despite his landing a plum job at a top flight investment bank.
Marley grew up at a girl’s school where conformity to an idealised feminine image drove her to the eating disorder that now threatens to derail her life plans. Therapy isn’t doing her a lot of good and she feels increasingly scammed by life – waiting to grow older but suspecting that she might not like what life has to offer her when she gets there.
The End of the Line explores a variety of themes brought to greater recent prominence by the occasion of the Covid pandemic – whether a fast-paced career is worth the aggravation and the constrictions of conformity being just two of them. With the progress towards their station of the train becoming ever more uncertain, Tom and (particularly) Marley start to relax into an increasingly empathetic conversation that’s therapeutic for both of their troubled souls. The denouement is both touching and humorous, leaving you with a feeling that life will, despite the respective characters current travails, turn out all right in the end.
Will Chambers and Josie Francis do a good job given the outdoor setting in the middle of a bustling city with its attendant background distractions. Their clear and powerful voices ensure that writers Emilie Clark and Ishwari Yardi’s words don’t disappear into the traffic and they’re ably supported by Serena Birch Reynardson in a variety of nicely formed character roles.
However, more consideration might have been given to the staging. With the actors seated for much of the performance and the audience on unraked seating, it was like listening to a radio play at times – simple block staging would have got round that. And the script, whilst it carefully addressed some important issues, appeared a little cliched at times, leaving me occasionally struggling to empathise with the characters on stage.
But this piece has potential. It illustrates the power of the chance encounter (and how we’ve missed that under lockdown!) and of face-to-face conversation in facilitating a better understanding of other’s lives. There’s also a refreshing innocence and warmth in the acting suggesting that, with a bit of further editing and script development, it could become an important piece of theatre.