Steve And Then It Ended
Paulden Hall Productions and Theatre503
It is not a prerequisite for the audience to know why the world is ending in order for Adam Usden’s apocalyptic drama to work; but when neither the play nor the characters within it seem to know what is happening or how they feel about it, it becomes increasingly difficult for the action on stage to carry any dramatic weight.
Steve and Then it Ended is clever in its conceit, realising that the way to tackle big issues is often by looking at the effect they have on the small. In this case the audience is shown the family unit of a mother named Annie (Jane Jeffery), a father named Steve (Matt Sutton), and their son Stan (Paul Moss), on the day the world ends. But whilst the set up is clever, the play fails to deliver on the promise of the situation.
At the start, mother and son arrive home to a news report on a television that the audience can neither see nor hear. One moment there is talk of various oddities, such as plagues of frogs and the disappearance of stars, and then something changes. In the briefest of moments something happens on the news that convinces Annie so quickly of the world's fate, it seems as though she must have known all along. If she did, her prior behaviour becomes, if not inexplicable, then very unlikely; if she didn’t she certainly accepts the apocalypse quickly.
Once the news of the end of the world has been navigated, albeit poorly, the play begins to pick up a head of steam. Interesting questions begin to be raised: what would be most important to us given hours to live? What usual human problems would become insignificant given the mass condensing of the remaining life span of the characters? Usden’s text has strength in the detail, moments of real joy and truth can be found in the relationships on stage, as well as the ways in which people react to an impending tragedy.
However, just when Steve and Then it Ended starts to motor, there is always a moment of weakness to hold it back. It is a shame as there is something here, but the play seems to be in too much of a hurry. At just under an hour long it certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome, but Oscar Blustin’s direction can seem a little in a hurry at times. The action often has the feeling of a director trying desperately to race through a three-hour tragedy for fear of losing their audience; here though that shouldn’t be a problem.
There is one element to the play, introduced at the very start, that is perhaps the most interesting innovation in the piece. Whilst 2010’s A thousand Stars Explode in the sky at the Lyric Hammersmith did a much better job of looking at the end of the world through following a stressed family unit, Usden’s text does have an ace in the hole.
At times, periodically through the piece, Steve is isolated and alone, left to recount exactly what happened when the world ended. These moments take place in a different time, a time which seems purposefully out of touch with the main body of action. He still appears to be in the flat, but a subtle shift in tone and delivery, well played by Sutton, gives these moments an other-worldly feel. The audience is teased and tempted by something more, something that, though it doesn’t necessarily arrive, certainly shows promise within the play missing at this moment in time.
Steve and Then it Ended is not a failure by any means, but at times its not much good either. Not nearly as good as it could; at least the concept works but writer, director and actors need to have more trust in that same concept for the play to be allowed to reach anything like its potential.
Reviewer: Alisdair Hinton