The End of Eddy

Edouard Louis adapted by Pamela Carter
Unicorn / Untitled Projects
Unicorn Theatre (Weston Theatre)

Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills as Eddy Credit: Ryan Buchanan
Kwaku Mills as Eddy Credit: Ryan Buchanan
Kwaku Mills as Eddy and Alex Austin (on screen) as Eddy Credit: Ryan Buchanan

This is an adaptation of an autobiographical book about growing up in a tough northern French village when you are not macho-masculine: picked on by bullies, trying to supress any girlishness, as you get older forcing yourself to try to make it with girls even though it is men that your body reacts to. This is what it is really like to be the only gay in the village, to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and try to convince yourself, “today I‘m going to be a man.”

Eddy tells his own story, or rather two Eddys do: Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills share being him. Identically dressed but looking very different, between them they play not just Eddy himself but his entire family, his classmates and other villagers.

There are four televisions in the different rooms of Eddy’s house. His dad likes continuous background noise. And there are four televisions on the stage with, behind them, Hallencourt‘s bus stop here the teenagers hang out. They are used very cleverly to present Eddy at different ages as well as other characters, though the images are always the same two actors, live action dovetailed with pre-recorded videos. When a bully spits in his face, the gob runs down the screen; when he is pushed to the ground, the screen goes down, his head sideways.

The original book, En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule, goes into sexual details which they tell us that they have had to omit from this staging, though what we are told doesn’t leave much to the imagination. This is especially true when his cousin gets him involved in some randy boy-on-boy action where he has to disguise his own feelings.

This is a story firmly placed in its context: a place where life is tough, work is hard to come by and difference is victimised, a long way from the liberal world to which Eddy eventually escapes. Having Eddy played by both a black and a white actor adds irony to the rural racism with which Eddy grows up and the differences in appearance of the actors broadens the ease of identification across the audience.

When they play other roles—mum with a fag always on the go, the glaring eyes of a sadistic elder brother, the school bullies—these are strong characterisations, not caricatures but portraits as Eddy sees them, pitched at just the right level under Stewart Laing’s direction.

The script makes perhaps too much use of narration; there’s a danger this could turn into a lecture, those talking TV screens becoming too presentational. The energy and warmth of the actors and their rapport with the audience counteracts this. They effectively engage with the audience. At the press performance, even when someone in the front row was taken ill, the handled the hiatus, fetching water, then with stage management cooperation picking things up with the same impetus.

Eddy knows he is different but tries not to be. Then he realises it isn’t anything he does that marks him out but who he is. When he finds himself a student in Amiens, away from the poverty and violence he grew up with in Hallencourt, he discovers things are different. He even wonders whether he wasn’t so much gay as just a middle-class boy trapped in a working class body.

This is a very clear picture of how circumstances shape attitudes and what a very short step there is from masculine pride to homophobia and misogyny.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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