“Sod the League of Nations”
At the heart of it, Iain Hollingshead (book and lyrics) and Timothy Muller’s (music) new musical The End of History has an interesting conceit – exploring the history of the 20th century (at least, from 1919 to 1989) through the experiences of a GCSE history class over the two years of their course. Moody teenagers as zealous nation states, geopolitical relations as schoolyard battles, there’s potential here.
It is potential that isn’t quite realised though, due to the huge scale of the ambition here. There’s the individual stories of 7 students each with their own individual struggles competing for room alongside the historical parallels being drawn at key moments, plus their teacher keeps stepping into the spotlight to pull focus with her own trials and general dissatisfaction at being a teacher to disinterested kids.
There’s too little opportunity for storylines to flow or develop as we jerk laboriously from present to past and back again (Jessica Dawes Harrison’s direction could usefully make these transitions much quicker). And matters are not helped by a score which pulls from the diverse influences of the time period but fails to provide any kind of internal coherence, resulting in a mishmash of styles that just clash, horribly at times.
We have the signing of the Treaty of Versailles as a vaudeville number, the crash of the 1920s is relayed via Cabaret influences, and the Yalta conference has a 40s Andrews Sisters swing to it. But in the same breath, there’s current-day power balladry and white people rapping (which is as good as it sounds). The result is a sprawling, unfocused couple of hours which relies far too much on clichés rather than giving any real insight on what it is to be a teenager today.