I am an easy mark for stories about growing up queer. Many queer people are, I would imagine. Stories of knowing, even as a kid, that there is something different about you, of the cruelty of being treated as other by schoolmates, long before you have figured out anything, and so on. The strangeness of these stories’ pull for queer audience is that along with the personal connection comes an inevitable reliving of trauma. The End Of Eddy appreciates that all too well. So, Pamela Carter’s text, adapted from Édouard Louis’ novel of the same name, takes a light touch, and keeps us at a certain distance.
At first, that distancing seems a strange choice. The End Of Eddy follows the coming of age of the author, Eddy Belleguele, who later changed his name to Édouard Louis. Eddy grows up poor in Hallencourt, France, a blue-collar, derelict factory town. His household is large and chaotic. Eddy’s mother is loving, but distant; his father a toxic, sometimes abusive male presence. At school Eddy is bullied for being effeminate and frequently called “faggot” by his classmates.
In telling us all of this, Eddy returns to adolescent traumas which, for me, brought up painful memories. Some of them I hadn’t thought of in years. For instance, Eddy recalls that at school, he would attempt (in vain) to appear headed somewhere important at breaks, trying to disguise that he had no friends. For at least a year of high school, I did the same. Eddy recollects an awkward sleepover where a group of boys masturbated together to pornography. I was at that sleepover, sad to say.
Eddy’s memories are unflinchingly truthful and, at times, upsetting. Thankfully Carter’s adaptation, as directed by Stewart Laing, is anything but. The story is told by two Eddys. James Russell-Morley, a small, livewire presence and Oseloka Obi, tall, calmer and more controlled. Obi and Russell-Morley are charming guides. They don’t entirely capture a full character between them, but I’m not sure that’s the intention. The two are so different, that it instead feels like many types of queer voices, all speaking to us at once. Both are Eddy, but only sort of. At the same time, they are also Carter, speaking to the audience about the choices made in her adaptation. And they are Édouard Louis, the adult, experiencing these moments again as he writes his novel.
The distancing effect proves successful. When the two Eddys speak of meeting with two bullies everyday in the same corridor, they can laugh at the regularity – almost as though it were a standing date. Our Eddys can both let us in on this sad moment and look back on it with amusement.
The two actors also share, mostly in pre-recorded video, all the other characters of Eddy’s life: parents, siblings, schoolmates. Heavy video work can often be awkward or distracting in an intimate venue, but Finn Ross’ designs interact seamlessly with the live actors.
Broadly, End of Eddy walks a smart, careful line between specificity and universality. Many of Eddy’s experiences hit me as painfully familiar. At the same time, the story is its own – tied closely to the town or Hallencourt, and to Eddy’s family, all of whom he paints with generous sympathy.
In a final moment between Eddy and his father, Carter’s text makes an unnecessary deviation from its typical subtlety. The show adds a heart to heart, which the actors inform us is not in the novel, between Eddy and his withholding father. The scene spells out themes we already understood: the damaged adults’ inability to express love, the trauma they have themselves inherited, and the desire, however unspoken, for their children to find a better life. We already got all of this without it needing to be spoken so bluntly.
For the most part though, this simple, moving production captures big themes and big emotions with careful understatement. In the fragments of Eddy’s life provided here, something universal comes through and these pieces of memory took me back, to a former Joey – one who has also ended, but who I should not forget.