Written by Adam Usden, a member of the Royal Court Studio Group and a newly selected member of the Traverse 50, Steve and Then It Ended is set on the day of the apocalypse. This is a popular subject for filmmakers; all sorts of disaster and apocalypse themed films have been made in the past decade, particularly with all the end-of-the-world, Mayan-based fear-mongering that has been going on. While, of course, the world has not ended, this is still an interesting topic that brings notions of human mortality and the fragility of our world to the fore.
Adam Usden is a writer with a bright future, at least if this play is anything to go by. Steve and Then It Ended is written with a tenderness and accuracy that many a well-established playwright would be proud of. It takes an everyday setting – the kitchen and living room of an ordinary family house – and places it in the most extraordinary situation. Usden creates an awareness of an external reality while maintaining a painstakingly crafted focus on a beautiful domestic drama. We watch as the characters truly decide what is important in the last few hours of the world; it is darkly humorous, occasionally brutal and gripping from the off. Conceptually and in practice, this play succeeds. Usden is without a doubt one to watch for the future.
There are one or two more impenetrable moments, particularly Steve’s monologues (played by Matt Sutton), which are written in a rather different tone. However, they frame the piece well, with the main action told through a series of flashbacks. Steve opens the play marooned on an armchair, apparently unable to step off it for fear of some catastrophe. He is in a very different world from the main action of the play, with subtle shifts in lighting and delivery distinguishing it, and it remains unclear whether he is a survivor of the apocalypse, of if he is in some form of afterlife or limbo. Whichever you take it to be, it is not a pleasant image.
Jane Jeffery as Annie, the mother of the household, gives a standout performance. A particularly memorable moment is when she recalls her memory of the first time her son wore a shirt; at a Christmas dance at a local youth centre. This is a great example of how Usden and Jeffery both make the apparently mundane somehow beautifully poignant; how in the midst of the end of the world, the everyday suddenly feels so valuable. Paul Moss is exceptional as the gawky teenage son, Stan. Moss and Jeffery give stunning performances, building a heart-wrenchingly recognisable mother-son dynamic, so much so that it is hard to believe the two actors have not spent their lives together. Their truthful performances are extraordinarily touching.
Director Oscar Blustin has crafted a beautiful production, despite being at times a little too pacey and even if it does slip towards sentimentality. Ian Latimer’s naturalistic design is dressed with detail, creating the perfect ‘everyday’ setting. Blustin’s direction is simple and effective, and Usden’s script is quite rightly the main star of the show. The ending is a little too abrupt, which is a shame, but with a little more work this piece could be very special indeed.
Steve and Then It Ended is playing at Theatre503 until 19 January. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre503 website (www.theatre503.com).