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The Times
Worlds End
Trafalgar Studios, SW1
26 February 2008
 

At first glance the absent apostrophe in the title looks like an attempt to cause anguish to Lynne Truss, But there is a subtle distinction between the end of a world and the fact that worlds end, and it is the latter process that Paul Sellar charts in his intriguing play, an award-winner at the Edinburgh Festival last year. When Kat clears her possessions from Ben's basement flat, he claims that she is destroying his happiness for ever. But though her decision to leave this self-pitying wastrel is obviously correct, we are asked to believe that she too will be sacrificing much.

Well, yes. The early stages of romance are often packed with treasurable memories - midnight swims in the Med, etc - and this can be why couples continue in abusive relationships. Though Ben has not gone in for physical assaults, his general misery combines with verbal fluency to drain the spirits of anyone brave enough to start living with him. There is something of Osborne's Jimmy Porter to his needling complaints, though the political rancour is absent. In fact, theworld outside their small circle of friends might not exist, for all the attention they pay to it.

I wouldn't go along with the critic who said that the play lays bare the nature of 21st-century love, but it certainly confirms Sellar's growing reputation for conveying the feel of 21st-century life, its obsessions and uncertainties, the longing for change and fear of it. His cracking dialogue cunningly reveals character, and the structure of the play - which takes place in 70 minutes of real time - keeps us uncertain whether Kat will decide to stay with him after all or, urged on by girlfriend Thea and by Josh, the new man in her life, try to consign him to her past.

Merryn Owen's Ben shows us a man zigzagging towards the extremes of manic depression. Charlotte Lucas's fleeting revival of tenderness for him does manage to suggest that he once had charm. Good playing too from Monica Bertel and Jamie Belman in a production by Guy Retallack that gradually strips the basement flat of everything that once made it a joyful love nest.

Jeremy Kingston