After a very successful Edinburgh Fringe run in 2015, This Will End Badly has come to Southwark Playhouse to assault, inspire and haunt audiences. This is a machine-gun of a show, with more meat in it than a triple-decker burger while never feeling like it’s preaching or trying too hard.
Rob Hayes’s fourth play consists of three interconnected monologues, which are performed by a single actor, switching between the three narratives at breakneck speed. The three characters span personalities that appear, at first, very different: one playing the game, another suffering a very physical side-effect of heartbreak and a third trying desperately to deal with and rationalise his world. However, as the story unfolds and their narratives become more intimate and harrowing, we see that surface differences can only hide so much of human nature and, under pressure, anxieties and struggles become universal.
The writing never dips, with intelligent, interesting and often comedic ideas constantly breaking the dark and troubled surface of the characters’ oration. The sudden changes are not only between characters but also between comedy, tragedy and confusion. In this simple switch we see life reflected, as nothing is ever consistently on one level and humans are constantly faced with contrasting and difficult situations. Hayes’s use of this makes everything about this show feel genuine and important.
Ben Whybrow gives a stunning performance as the three characters, judging every facet of the show just right. The narrative arch of the three stories means that the pace of the show accelerates like a speeding train and juggernauts through to its climax, and Whybrow’s timing in this is impeccable. There is nothing like seeing an actor work to create such interesting and devastating characters, and here they come and go in seconds, leaving your head spinning and your heart pounding. Within ten minutes of the show’s opening, the audience are hanging on his every word. Whybrow also takes advantage of the intimacy of the space by addressing parts of his rants directly to audience members. This drags us in even deeper and doesn’t allow us to shy away from the difficult subject matter of the play, drawing the issues at hand into sharp, brilliant focus.
Caught up in a raw, visceral storm of words and emotion, Whybrow’s powerhouse performance takes the audience on an intense and exciting journey. Hayes’s wonderfully dark comedy is thoroughly entertaining and deserves to be seen.
This Will End Badly is playing at Southwark Playhouse until 6 February. For tickets and more information go to the Southwark Playhouse website. Photo: Ben Broomfield