Lara Mandell

A woman kills her 11-year-old daughter, and we the audience must decide how to interpret and respond to that act. This is the premise of The Unbelievable Ending of the World, which opens with April’s (Grainne Dromgoole) final words to her daughter, then backtracks in order to show us the string of developments that led to her horrific decision. The whole play is framed as a test for the audience, with the narrator (Olivia Miller) offering commentary throughout.  

The cast’s main strength is in how well they work together. Dromgoole and Jamie Sayers act as spot-on counterparts to one another as the play’s narrative builds. Dromgoole’s April goes from serious concern over orange skies, to panicked attempts at making a difference and then increasing emotional distance from her family. Sayers’ Leo perfectly matches her, first with good-natured irony and humour, then distress and despair as he experiences the loss of watching his wife change right before his eyes. Sophie Scott also offers a strong performance as their daughter Lucy, convincingly embodying the voice and mannerisms of an 11-year-old. She transitions smoothly between her supporting roles, and although her scene as a polar bear could have been more impactful, I can’t really blame her (how does one portray an endangered species?). Though she has fewer interactions with the other cast members, Miller’s narrator, in turn, succeeds in building a rapport with the audience by revealing her own character’s uncertainty, not lecturing but instead inviting us to examine the unfolding events alongside her. It was a general theme throughout the play that the most human moments were the ones that allowed the cast to really show off their skills and thus had the greatest effect. Some missed lines here and there only somewhat detracted from the performance, and can hopefully be chalked up to opening night jitters.

The set design was minimal, as is usual for the Corpus Playroom, and in light of that, I thought the window frames and curtains on the walls were a good choice for referencing April’s mental state. The production could have benefitted from more use of sound though, particularly in setting the atmosphere and ramping up the audience’s unease. On the other hand, great praise must go to Ciaran Walsh’s puppets, especially for the polar bear’s face and paws. Having the actors use these puppets almost as masks was something I hadn’t seen before and helped set this show apart. 


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Let's Start a Fire review

Unfortunately, my biggest problem with The Unbelievable Ending of the World is the writing.  The play constantly toed the line between pretentiousness and genuine reflection, faux-deep discussions and actual human responses to a crisis. While April and the narrator often veer into nonsensical monologues clearly trying too hard to be clever, Leo and Lucy’s more grounded characters seem to indicate an awareness on the part of the author that a play has to be more than just his inner political debates. Maclean also pre-empts that criticism through the narrator’s meta-commentary: at one point, she suggests the very description for her speech that I just gave you. Yet if Maclean’s aim was an indictment of the kind of high-horse theorizing April engages with, his narrator weakens that by asking the audience to consider whether April’s act is one of hatred or loving sacrifice, and leaving open the question of moral ambiguity. The crucial point though is that focusing on April’s complexity ends up undermining any pro-climate justice stance Maclean may have wanted to take. This is because the narrative pits total apathy toward climate change against, well, child murder. Offering no alternative to April’s mad spiral, no possibility of combining action with love and care for one’s family, sends a dangerous message – and not, I think, the one Maclean necessarily intended. The ideas this play explores regarding information fatigue, the sense that a problem is too big to even begin solving, and the toll that impending climate catastrophe can take on the human psyche are interesting and important. I just wish they had been given more space to grow in a way that would have allowed for other angles to take shape.

The Unbelievable Ending of the World is a solid piece of student writing, that sadly tries to do too much and gets muddled in its narrative. At times confusing, it nevertheless succeeds in engaging the viewer thanks to a strong cast and interesting themes. If you want to see a play dealing with how the big picture enters our daily lives, this one is for you.

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