I see The End with one of my best friends from university. We are about as different as Bert and Nasi come across onstage – she is effortlessly gregarious and extroverted (so she’s the Bert) and I am shyer, quieter, more prone to closing off (so I’m the Nasi.) We became immediate friends on our second day of Freshers Week, and I have absolutely no idea how it happened or how it’s persisted for four years when we are so shockingly dissimilar. Will it last? Will we be friends in five years? Ten? Thirty? I might be dead in ten years. Christ.
The End is a show apart from Bert and Nasi’s unofficial trilogy (Eurohouse, Palmyra, and One) – and while the trilogy is a relentlessly, transgressively cruel excavation of power dynamics, The End feels looser, like shaking your muscles out, like a long-awaited exhale of a show. Bert and Nasi traverse across the vast expanse of the Rose Bruford space, the sound of their trainers slapping and echoing off the high ceiling, shimmering back and forth in time. Projections at the back of the stage muse on what the world might be like in 1000 years, 2000 years, 20000 years, 5 million years, 10 billion years. Your brain stretches and aches trying to envision those numbers. It feels completely unfathomable. Time floats away. My eyes go a bit fuzzy and I stop trying after a while. I hear my best friend sigh next to me. “But right now,” the projection throws up, “we’re here.” And all of a sudden, we’re back.
It’s fairly difficult to shake off the memory of the trilogy as you watch The End – there are moments of struggle between the pair where I could feel my hands twitching, waiting for the inevitable twist into cruelty, but it never comes. They grapple with each other, alternately clutching at or wrestling with, Bert in a peach shirt, Nasi in pale blue, a pastel yin and yang desperately forcing themselves to tesselate. Much of The End feels like Bert and Nasi’s adventures in attempted synchronicity, which (consciously, of course) never quite gets there – after all, how well can you really know another person? Even your closest artistic collaborator and friend? There is always a slight strain when their bodies come together – when they slap their heads into the palm of the other’s hand, when they attempt to do a lift, when they do some approximation of a salsa – you can feel the concerted effort, the semi-frantic desire to fit together but the inherent impossibility of it. They seem most compatible when they are at a slight distance, like when Nasi attempts to balance on a chair and Bert watches and then joins him – because, after all, mirroring someone else’s actions is the best way of triggering empathy. ‘Experiments in Empathy’ might be another name for The End.
It’s the final stretch that gets me. Bert and Nasi jog-skip in a circle, equidistant to each other, as text is projected onto the back wall, imagining a potential future for them both. One which, eventually, of course, does not include the other. Circling, circling, looking at each other calmly. The text is clean and matter-of-fact, written in a clinical third-person. They go round and round and round and round, like they’re opening up a portal in the floor. Keeping time, always keeping time. Not looking at each other anymore. I start to cry. I imagine them devising this part of the show. Was it painful? They seem utterly at peace. It feels completely unbearable. I weep and I weep and I weep.
When my best friend and I leave the show, I am wiping my eyes. I ask her what she thinks. She shrugs, makes a slight face, and I feel my stomach drop. Just a bit.
The End is on at Summerhall until 25th August. More info and tickets here.