REVIEW: THIS WILL END BADLY (Southwark Playhouse)

This Will End Badly is breathtakingly ambitious in scope and expertly executed. Clive Judd’s gripping one-man play had a critically acclaimed run at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe before transferring to the Southwark Playhouse.

It begins with actor Ben Whybrow alone on a sparse stage; vulnerable and isolated from the audience. He plays three men, who are all telling their stories to an unseen woman. As the piece progresses, it becomes clear that they are talking to the same one woman who connects their lives. The narrative swings from the mundane to the profound without warning, and is hilarious and heart-rending by turns.

All three men are struggling to reconcile their inner demons with the man they want to be. One of the men is recently dumped, and can’t take a dump. Dealing with his heartbreak and chronic constipation equally badly, his mental state slowly crumbles. The second man talks us through his approach to ‘the game’, narrating his flirting skills. He expresses his discomfort with objectification and ends up claiming it is his birth right to dominate women. The third is suffering with anxiety and exhibits increasingly compulsive behaviours. Explaining his symptoms as if to a therapist, he then starts to berate himself for burdening his unseen listener.

The script deals with absolutely fundamental ideas of modern masculinity. It asks lots of big questions without losing its compassionate human element. It is also, crucially, very funny, although Whybrow’s delivery occasionally throws away a good comic line which should be given more time. Jemima Robinson’s simple but effective set consists of a toilet in one corner and a bare lightbulb overhead. Combined with Christopher Nairne’s brilliant lighting design, these elements take on lives of their own to become complicit in the characters’ suffering.

Between Rob Hayes’ taut, pacy script and the skeletal set, Whybrow has no place to hide. And nor does he need one. He brilliantly evokes three completely different characters using voice and mannerisms, and frequently shifts from one to another mid-sentence. His performance is compelling, and the mounting mental and emotional turmoil of each character’s story is unnerving to watch – we know this will end badly.

This perceptive and insightful piece feels like a private window into three lives in distress. Although the three characters are very different, they are all living with the expectations society places on men and the challenges those expectations bring. The end is shocking, and leaves questions unanswered. All I want, by the end, is to help these men – which is where CALM comes in.

This Will End Badly is associated with CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably. This charity is dedicated to reducing rates of male suicide and its aim is keeping men alive by talking. This Will End Badly is sure to get people thinking and, more importantly, talking.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Ben Broomfield

This Will End Badly is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 6 February 2016