Death of England: Closing Time  – review

“one of the best-executed, directed, and written performances I've had the pleasure of witnessing on stage in a while”
National Theatre
Review by: Christina Nicole
afridiziak ratings
Published: Tuesday 9th October 2023, 6:59am

Death of England : Closing Time at the National Theatre - L-R Jo Martin, Hayley Squires © Feruza Afewerki
Death of England : Closing Time at the National Theatre – L-R Jo Martin, Hayley Squires © Feruza Afewerki

Let me start by saying what a play. I’ve watched countless plays, but Death of England: Closing Time truly struck a chord in a way I’ve never experienced before.

It was undoubtedly one of the best executed, directed, and written performances I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing on stage in a while. With its raw grit and emotion, the writers, Clint Dyer and Roy Williams, undoubtedly saved the best for last with this final instalment in the Death of England quadrilogy.

Set on a narrow, brilliantly lit cross-stage with three seating levels, from the pits to the upper circle, I sat in the deep pit seats. I highly recommend these seats; they immerse you in the action, feeling like a fly on the wall as you sense the breeze on your skin as the actors sprint past you throughout the stage.

The play delves into the lives of two women, Denise (Jo Martin) and Carly (Hayley Squires), who share a common bond with Denise’s son, Delroy. A black man who enjoys boxing, watching football, and causing chaos with his long-term friend, Michael, who happens to be Carly’s brother.

Denise and her ‘daughter in sin’ Carly have ventured into a joint business endeavour, a shop that sells both flowers and patties. On paper, it may sound like the perfect combination, but in reality, it’s far from it. They face challenges like customers disapproving of Denise’s loud music and the aroma of patties. Their struggles intensified during the pandemic, leading them to fight to keep their shop afloat.

However, a drunken night exposes Carly’s racial thoughts on social media, resulting in her being ‘cancelled’, along with their shop. Death of England: Closing Time dives deep into contemporary society, shining a light on various issues. It not only exposes the racism prevalent in Britain but also touches on the challenges faced by black British women, the impact of COVID-19, the dynamics of blended families, multiracial relationships, and the consequences of cancel culture.

The story compels you to confront the exhaustion of being black in Britain. Thanks, Carly’s reckless actions, showcase something we often see: certain white individuals dating black people who like to, appropriate our slang, and emulate our style, yet still harbouring racist thoughts – all while avoiding having any genuine black friends.

I couldn’t help but feel triggered when Carly felt no way about teaching her non-black friends the top five simple ways to keep a black man. It reminded me of someone I once knew who shared the same attitude, believing that black men are simple-minded and easy to keep because they’ve been “chosen” to be loved by a white woman. Ridiculous! (*Triggered yet again*).

I appreciated the play’s relatability to everyone in the audience, particularly when it delved into King Charles’s coronation, discussed the impact of COVID-19, and explored the world of social media and cancel culture. These topics we’re all familiar with yet have differing thoughts and opinions.

Having watched the previous three stories in the series, it was great to see how Death of England: Closing Time unfolds, particularly from a female perspective.

You don’t need to have seen the previous three performances to grasp the new play. This play stands on its own, but to give you some background: the earlier stories revolve around Michael and Delroy, two childhood friends with vastly different British experiences. In the first play, the focus is on Michael, a young working-class white man who is grieving the loss of his father. This loss takes a toll on Michael, leading him into a life crisis. Struggling with profound thoughts about race, class, and the state of the UK, Michael makes a momentous decision to speak his truth at the most inappropriate event: his racist father’s funeral.

Death of England: Delroy is the second play in the series, and it responds to Death of England. It delves into the story of Delroy, a young black British man from a Jamaican background, who, much like Michael in Death of England, shares his truths about what being British means to him, but as a black man. He addresses the challenges he’s had to confront not only with the country he lives in but also within Michael’s family. Delroy explores topics like race, dating a white woman (Michael’s sister), becoming a father, and white privilege. Although he initially dismisses ‘BLM’ at the start of the play, after a harrowing encounter with the British police, where he’s treated like an animal, he starts to question the essence of being British, especially as a black man.

Death of England: Face to Face shifts its focus to both Delroy and Michael. Delroy is now a new dad, and Michael is an uncle to baby Megan. The play unfolds in Delroy’s flat, where a significant altercation takes place, compelling both Michael and Delroy to not only on themselves and their identities but also on their relationship with each other.

Returning to the main focus, Death of England: Closing Time,  I must commend both actresses, Denise (Jo Martin) and Carly (Hayley Squires), for their exceptional storytelling. Their performances were nothing short of remarkable, and I can honestly say that I witnessed some of the finest acting I’ve ever seen on stage.

Both actresses effortlessly portrayed multiple characters, demonstrating a remarkable range of skills. Their presence, accents, body language, and acting was truly fantastic. I found myself fully immersed in their performances, believing every word they spoke. There were moments when I completely forgot I was watching a play, as their portrayal of the characters felt incredibly real and raw.

Jo Martin’s and Hayley Squires’, outstanding performances were instrumental in bringing the play to life. They added depth and authenticity to the storytelling, making it a truly memorable experience. They deserve immense praise for their performance.

Overall, this play exceeded my expectations in every way. It seamlessly blended moments of laughter with deep self-reflection. There were times when it made me and triggered intense emotions, causing me to reflect on the concept of being British and my own identity. It was a thought-provoking experience that will stay with me for a long time.

I can’t recommend this play enough. Please don’t sleep on this play! Hurry up and watch it before it ends because trust me, you will love it!

NEED TO KNOW: Death of England: Closing Time plays at National Theatre until 11 Nov 2023 * Since reviewing the production, Jo Martin has been indisposed. The role of Denise is now performed by Sharon Duncan-Brewster.

Related links
Death of England – 2020 review
Death of England: Face to Face – 2021 review

death-of-england-closing-time-review Let me start by saying what a play. I've watched countless plays, but Death of England: Closing Time truly struck a chord in a way I've never experienced before. It was undoubtedly one of the best executed, directed, and written performances I've had the pleasure of witnessing...