Closing off the venue’s Queer Season is this debut play from James Corley, set in 1998/9. The title refers to the tower block in Chelsea where most of the action is situated, but with a running thread of terrorism it inevitably takes on another meaning.
Ben is a nervous, stammering young man of nineteen. He loves his video games but is voluntarily in the house almost all the time due to his anxiety. Mum Viv has made them move several times, and it is clear they belong in another part of town. A lack of money, opportunities, and sex has left her frustrated and her world revolves around her son.
Next door, renting from the council, are refugees from Kosovo, ultra-masculine artist dad Ylli and confident gay son Besnik. Their flat is bigger, they pay a lot less than their neighbours. Their TV constantly flickers with scenes of conflict from their home country.
Bonding over their shared interest in Super Mario, Ben and Besnik become ever closer in the tightly-furnished living room which doubles as a second sleeping space, where Ben dreans of escaping to Malaysia to his absent dad, and downloads expensive gay porn on the internet.
World’s End is about the shadows of art, about finding yourself, about the clear perils of growing up, whether fighting for your nation’s freedom, or something much closer to home. It is about light and dark, from an early scene where Ylli tells Viv a true artist captures light and colour, to a final scene of a rooftop eclipse. Ultimately it is about love in all its forms.
The performances are generally good: Tom Milligan as Ben holds the attention in both quiet moments and moments of intense aggrevation; Patricia Potter manages a difficult character arc of peaks and troughs; Mirlind Bega, in his debut role as Benik, shows a determined sense of spirit, the one his father recognises as “a different kind of fighter”; and Nikolaos Brahimllari, the lonely widower frustrated by both the constraints of Serbian attacks and the freedom of their new home, teases out the portrait painter beneath the soldier.
In the small space of the King’s Head Theatre, itself in need of a bit of care and TLC, we feel firmly in the part of London which never sees money. The lift has been broken for a year, the gas heating guzzles coins in the meter.
I would have liked something to anchor us more to 1999 – a flash of a song, perhaps, or a mention of the Millennium Bug. The Zelda game and Benik’s new Converse trainers place us there, and the Billy Bass singing fish, but the set and sound design might have done a bit more.
World’s End continues at the King’s Head to the 21 September. It is directed by Harry Mackrill and designed by Rachel Stone. Production photos by Bettina Adela.