Ben Whybrow stands onstage and describes in detail the sensation of finally taking a shit after chronic constipation, the liquid trickling down his legs, the “clay” sliding down his shorts, the pebble in his shoe. It’s a grim tale, exemplary of writer Rob Hayes’ full throttle, pugnacious approach to imagery that sticks in the mind with excruciating clarity.
This Will End Badly is a play all about release. Whybrow flits between three different stories, each depicting different men affected by mental health issues, three sides of the same prism. There’s a man who revels in his aggressive approach to women. There’s a shy man suffering from OCD who believes he can prevent others from getting ill if he can kill himself. And the aforementioned man suffering from constipation after his girlfriend breaks up with him. With male suicide in particular such a prevalent and pressing issue at the moment, This Will End Badly is a poignant and urgent reminder of the pressures of masculinity in present day. And it takes place on a stage presided over by an almost ominous porcelain throne, Christopher Nairne’s lighting design dominated by stark up-lighting.
If Hayes’ writing style is confrontational yet bleakly amusing, skillfully pushing and pulling the audience’s emotions in all sorts of directions, then Whybrow’s astonishing performance enhances this further. Each story bleeds seamlessly into the next, fragmented, as if that prism of masculinity has been shattered into pieces. Just as we begin to grasp one character, we’re thrown head first into the next. Perfectly paced and nuanced, Whybrow steers us through a minefield at breakneck speed, relentlessly and inevitably racing towards some conclusion, some form of release. He is a ball of pent up rage, fear, sexual frustration and shit just waiting to – quite literally – explode.
Watch: This Will End Badly runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 6th February.
Photos: Ben Broomfield