Endz is a new production from the Everyman and Playhouse that has been touring community spaces across the city, including the Liverpool Lighthouse in Anfield, where yesterday it had an afternoon and evening performance. A piece of verbatim theatre, it told the story of a fractured community, ravaged by guns and drugs, using the words and stories of real Liverpool people.
Like work such as Unprotected and Ten Tiny Toes before it, it pulled no punches and tugged at the heart, telling its story mainly through a group of teenagers on the brink of a life of crime or addiction, and the adults looking out for them. Joe (Garry Cargill) has been there, done that and worn the T-shirt; Young widow Lisa (Lisa Parry) runs a community centre to try and provide a place for the kids to stop them making the same mistakes her husband did. Danny (Glenn Wild) is the young man in turmoil in the middle, who’s best friend died in his arms after a stabbing, leaving him wondering what on earth to do with his life.
Eye-opening and saddening, Endz was heavy-going, but split into short scenes interspersed with bursts of urban music. The opener with Lisa and her friend setting up the community centre and happily chatting was just one of several scenes highlighting that ordinariness of an inclusive community – the kids are “nice, really”, the place never used to be so bad, it wasn’t like this when I was growing up and so on – some other characters too served to illustrate that sense of changing times.
It was only the reality of the words at the heart of this performance that stopped it seeming like an over the top episode of The Bill. At times, the melodrama was so thickly laid on it was thoroughly depressing to remember this was not (strictly) fiction. Although the characters were amalgamated from interviews undertaken by the Endz team, all the words were real. The character of Joe seemed particularly cartoonishly extreme in the amount of trouble he had managed to fit in his 41 years, but Gerry Cargill (most recently seen making the best out of a bad situation as a rather badly-written headteacher in Hollyoaks) was understated and believable. In the end though, it proved itself to be a love letter, of sorts, to these resiliant communities of the city and their unsung heroes.
Watching the gang go through the list of questions that real young people had been asked – scoffing at words like ambition and inspiration, littering their sentences with multiple ‘knowarrameans’ to only further illustrate they themselves had little clue, was poignant. Perhaps because of the nature of the production and the fact it was touring communities and performing to many young people, in the end that ‘just say no’ message was about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
Choosing the afternoon performance and watching Endz among a couple of hundred secondary school pupils did help illustrate what a cautionary tale such as this was up against. Holding the attention of large groups of young people watching as part of their school day is a struggle, and in this instance had varying degrees of success. Attention could be diverted as easily as cutting to a scene between two older characters. A bit of effing and blinding got them sat up and listening. And in a way, perhaps this production had to account for that. Although to make its point it did descend into the preachy and dare it be said predictable, there were some impressive performances from all the cast, completed by the very promising Jennifer Bea, Marc Hughes and Joe Shipman.