The End of the Pier
The Exchange, North Shields
Neil Armstrong’s last play, Remember Jim?, in 2013 blended theatre (it was set in a theatre dressing room during a long panto run) and psychological thriller; his latest adds a considerable amount of humour into a similar mix.
Like its predecessor, it is also set in a dressing room, but this time in an end of the pier variety theatre and the dressing room is the summer season “home” of singing duo The Lovebirds, Edith (Zoe Lambert) and Lionel (played by Armstrong) Boshe. They’ve been married for 25 years, have performed together for longer and, like Coward’s “dear old couple”, they really do hate one another. In fact, they are planning to kill each other.
This is not a spoiler for they tell us so right from the off.
What follows in this 90-minute (including interval) piece involves a couple of handguns, a stage-doorman, a large wicker basket, a gorilla, a bunch of flowers and their agent. It’s funny and intriguing with some unexpected, even quirky, plot twists and turns and Armstrong manages to throw in some thoughts on the nature and value of acting—without any sense of incongruity.
There are two other cast members: Pip Chamberlin plays stage-door keeper Tam and Mike Yeaman (who also designed and built the set) their agent Barnaby.
Lambert and Armstrong really capture the fractured relationship of their characters. Even when these two “lovebirds” are singing together, they can’t bring themselves to look at each other and their conversations bristle with unconcealed resentment, verging on hatred. And as for Tam and Barnaby, neither is what they seem…
Armstrong also directs and he keeps the piece moving at a good pace, bringing out the humour but without forcing it, striking a satisfying balance between the passion and the humour, the action and the laughs.
The End of the Pier moves to Hartlepool Town Hall on 22 June, Arts Centre Washington on 23 and Durham’s Gala Theatre on 24 and 25.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan