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Features Published 19 November 2014

The Sense of an Ending

Closing moments and after-shocks: Exeunt's writers discuss theatre's most powerful and affecting final scenes.
Exeunt Staff

Catherine Love: Sometimes it is the absence of a clear ending that leaves the greatest lasting impact. That was certainly the case with God/Head, Chris Goode’s tangled and very personal interrogation of faith. Many of the show’s details elude me now, but I remember with startling clarity Goode leaving the space at the end and not returning for the customary curtain call. We as an audience were not allowed the break and the partial closure that applause and a bow would have offered; instead, Goode kept us in that space with the ideas that he had released and the background strains of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”.

I remember a slight awkwardness in the room, the sort of awkwardness that always haunts an event when the accepted social rules are ruptured in some way. But it also felt like an act of care – for Goode himself, who had laid bare so much, and for the audience he allowed to spend some time with the thoughts stirred by the piece. And still, every time I hear “My Sweet Lord”, a part of me is transported momentarily back to that room at Ovalhouse and that not-ending.

Jessie Thompson:  When I watched Roots by Arnold Wesker for the first time, I thought I was Beatie Bryant. Not long abandoned by my very own Ronnie Kahn, I’d sloped back to my small-minded small town after university and wondered, if a girl speaks when nobody’s around to hear her, does she make a sound? The final moments of Roots told me that yes, she does. When all hope seems gone, Beatie looks inside and finds the kindling of a spark – a voice of her own. “I’m not quoting no more,” she says, and as they play ends, her life is beginning. It made me realize that you don’t need permission for passion, and that nurturing wide-eyed curiosity and joie de vivre will reap the most solid and anchored roots of all. 

Tim Bano: Often, it’s the gasping, reeling sensation that I remember most; the silence before the applause, the inability to process what I’ve just seen with any coherence or rational thought; the cumulative punch to the head and heart that leaves me winded. But how to explain that? Those final moments rarely rely on a single closing line or concluding monologue – those moments need their context.

Like seeing Kim Noble in the small hours of the morning in Edinburgh and trying to rid myself of the nausea and exhilaration by walking around a park for 2 hours, dismissing the maelstrom of thoughts, re-assessing my attitude towards social conventions.

Or the finishing touch to Mr Burns: after the third act, a ritualistic opera set in a future with no electricity, a hybridised Sideshow Bob/Mr Burns character rises through the floor pedalling an exercise bike. Fairy lights, lamps and lanterns strung all around the theatre start to glow. Power is restored both to the post-apocalyptic world of the play and to the Almeida auditorium.

Or the sheer poetic beauty of Dancing At Lughnasa’s final lines, Michael describing a memory of his childhood in which ‘atmosphere is more real than incident and everything is simultaneously actual and illusory’. It’s a masterful epilogue that reveals the post-play fates of the characters and makes sense of the play’s strains and themes.

Moments like that achieve immanence. They mythologise and become an irrevocable encounter with perfection. The more they rely on words alone the more tempting it is to revisit them, to reread the play and dilute the illusion of greatness. But when those closing moments are atmosphere, mood, pure feeling…well, then they can never be made weak. Maybe forgotten, one day, but until then unreliable memory and perfect hindsight convince me that I once experienced something extraordinary.

Teh Internet is Serious Business.

Teh Internet is Serious Business.

Dan Hutton: I was particularly taken by the final beat of Teh Internet Is Serious Business. After a mad, thrilling two-and-a-half hours of memes, shouting, revolts, Nyan Cats and colourful balls charting the story of the rise of Anonymous and Lulzsec, Hamish Pirie’s production honed in on the charges faced by two British teenagers caught up in the frenzy. After explaining that all but one of the core Lulzsec activists had been traced by the authorities, we finally saw Jake Davis (alias Topiary) and Mustafa Al-Bassam (alias Tflow) meet each other in the flesh after months of online-only contact. As they sat waiting for a court session regarding their activities on a now-blank and neutral set, they awkwardly exchanged glances. One piped up: “Nice to meet you”. “Nice to meet you too,” the other says. They grinned cheekily at each other, and the lights went out.

What I loved about this moment was its simplicity of storytelling, especially compared to the rest of the show. Here we had two teenage boys, who had simply been having a laugh in the comfort of their own bedrooms (though, admittedly, most of us play Call of Duty rather than hacking multinational corporations), meeting one another for the first time. Yes, they had no doubt already been reprimanded for their actions and probably felt some kind of remorse, but after hiding behind anonymity and walls of coding, they were finally able to meet another human being who had been on the same ecstatic ride. Those smiles gave it all away. Yes, they might have done wrong by some standards. But my God they had fun.

Annegret Marten: A double click. Then a flame springs from the white plastic lighter. I’m sharing a cigarette with a stranger. I just had a good cry at the closing monologue of a play and I can’t handle being on my own just yet. I’m being intrusive but I’m trying to get a grip and this poor guy now has to deal with it. I bombard him with questions I’m actually trying to ask myself. Erratic euphoria, followed by stretches of silent nodding. He’s probably looking for a way to escape this awkward bubbling mess in front of him. He’s mere seconds away from Sloane Square tube and yet he stays. “And how you can get from Grumpy Cat to a definition of freedom for our modern time…”, I tune out from my own words.

We stand in front of the Royal Court after having watched Teh Internet is Serious Business. I ramble about precarious nature of net neutrality, furry animals and interpretative dance. Geeks in a basement hacking national security agencies. He talks of silent and not so silent revolutions.

The internet has long stopped being trapped behind screens. It is RL (real life) for millions and millions of workers, lovers and activists all over the globe and yet in the population there’s a systemic conception that what happens online is not as real and doesn’t count. Writer Tim Price serves up a messy dish about how this digital space is not hypothetical or withdrawn from real life and the culmination is just too much for me. No technical finale furioso about bytes and passcodes – just a simple speech by a boy about hopes and concerns and dark prospects for the future.

Incomprehensible scope always overwhelms me. I stretch out my hands in front of me. “They’re shaking”, he says. I smile. It’s not from the cigarette.

William Drew:  These are some of the last lines of Angels in America by Tony Kushner.  I have a feeling there’s an epilogue after this but I think it still counts.  They are spoken by the prophet Prior Walter to a heavenly court.  The prophet is sick.  We know he will die.  We just don’t know when.  This is what he says:

“Even sick. I want to be alive….

I want more life. I can’t help myself. I do.

I’ve lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much much worse, but.… You see them living anyway. When they’re more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they’re burned and in agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their children – they live.

Death usually has to take life away. I don’t know if that’s just the animal. I don’t know if it’s not braver to die, but I recognize the habit; the addiction to being alive. So we live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough. It’s so inadequate. But still bless me anyway. I want more life.”

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Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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