Closing this year’s popular Queer Season at The King’s Head Theatre is James Corley’s debut play Worlds End, an LGBT love story set against the approaching new millennium and the Kosovo conflict. Directed by Harry Mackrill, this seemingly ordinary story has more than a few surprises waiting for its audience.
Set in the late nineties a single mother and her son move in to a run-down block of flats on the World’s End estate, they quickly befriend a single father and his son who live next door before all of their lives are changed forever. It’s clear from the opening scene that Viv and Ben belong in a different part of Chelsea, but as the play slowly unfolds, we start to understand how life has led them down this path.
James Corley’s writing is incredibly captivating, each of the characters are entirely different, yet they gel together with pathos, and a realism that is a pure joy to watch develop. While Ylli (Nikolaos Brahimllari) and Besnik are fighting their own struggles, there are clear parallels between the two families and the bond they develop early on is heart-warming.
The real essence of World’s End comes between Ben and Besnik; as their parents work nights, they bond over a love of video games. The one-player Legend of Zelda becomes a two-player adventure, leading them both on a quest to discover their own identities. These two characters are polar opposites too, Mirlind Bega’s Besnik wears make-up and regularly hangs out in the bars of Soho, while sheltered Ben takes longer to accept his true feelings.
The love story that develops between Ben and Besnik is breath-taking in its beauty, it dispenses with the usual stereotypes of a gay relationship and instead develops slowly through friendship and shared experiences. Within Ben and Besnik we see the innocence of youth and the tragedy of loss come together in the LGBT love story we’ve all been waiting for.
Corley’s writing is only strengthened by the direction of Harry Mackrill. The staging in the intimate King’s Head is particularly effective, Mackrill never allows us to forget where we are, or the time we are in. It’s clear that Mackrill has elicited a deep understanding of the writer’s intent and transposed that to a living, breathing work of art.
Patricia Potter is a wonderfully nuanced Viv, we understand that she is running away from sadness and that perhaps too often she has put her own happiness at the forefront of her decisions, but through Potter we see the deep love she holds for her son.
As Ben, Tom Milligan gives perhaps the performance of the year. This deeply troubled and complex character is so finely tuned in the hands of Milligan it’s impossible to see where actor ends and character begins. In a performance that often catches the audience off guard in its ferocity, Milligan takes us along on Ben’s journey, allowing us to feel every emotion as he does.
World’s End wraps a lot of vital themes in to its ninety minutes, but each of them blend together in a way that feels entirely natural. As a debut play this is outstanding work from writer James Corley and director Harry Mackrill, and combined with exceptional performances, is nothing short of a triumph.