When Edouard Louis’ autobiographical novel, The End of Eddy, was first published in France in 2014, it caused something of a sensation. Louis’ first-person account of a working-class rural childhood riven with violence both at home and school was a frank and unflinching account of personal reinvention and sexual outsiderdom in the face of brutalisation among a disenfranchised part of society.
The fact that Louis was still only twenty-one when his book appeared made it even more remarkable. Louis has gone on record to say he never read a book until he was seventeen, while some publishers are said to have turned down Louis’ book as they found his depictions of contemporary France stranger than fiction.
In a world where social mobility is becoming increasingly problematic for working class people, Louis changed his name by deed poll from his family name of Belleguelle as a mark of his own reinvention. Such a leap is perfect material for director and designer Stewart Laing and writer Pamela Carter, who have previously collaborated on work presented by Laing’s company, Untitled Projects. For their new staging of The End of Eddy, which opens at Edinburgh International Festival next week, Untitled have teamed up with young people’s theatre company, Unicorn Theatre, for a very of the moment production.
“It’s a political story beautifully told,” says Carter, “and you’ve got this personal experience framed in a political context. He’s going back and quite analytically reflecting on the whys and wherefores of his own suffering, so he’s placing his own story in a wider discussion about the nature of suffering.”
For Laing, “That mix makes it a really interesting read. He’s not only telling the story. He’s reflecting on the nature of the story at the same time, and I think that is really interesting, and is what Pamela’s picked up on in terms of how we communicate that story to an audience. Here’s this thing. Here’s the reflections of the guy who wrote the story, and here’s our reflection on that reflection.”
An early decision by Carter and Laing was to have Eddy played by one white actor and an actor of colour, with both playing all other parts using film as well as live action.
“One of the reasons for having two actors is that the book is about transformation,” Laing explains. “It’s about somebody who consciously changes themselves in reaction to things that are happening in their lives. Another reason was to do with race. Part of the narrative of the book is that the community that Eddy grows up in all vote Front National, so there’s a casual racism in the narrative. We needed to have someone with the authority to speak about that onstage. The book deals with race, sexuality and class, so it’s a triple whammy of otherness and repression. Edouard is adamant this isn’t fiction. Even though it’s written as a novel, he would say it’s autobiography and social commentary.”
“That’s why he excites us,” says Carter, “because it’s entertaining sociology. If such a thing exists, this is it. Edouard is contextualising and trying to understand his personal experience. The character of Eddy is charming, smart and vulnerable, and you care about him, but the story is also a wider discussion about intersectionality, class, aspiration, socio-economics and masculinity.”
For Laing, the main thing about The End of Eddy is “about this young kid living with the knowledge of who he is, and he can’t have a conversation with anybody about it. He’s recognised something within himself that he can’t externalise, so he’s inventing this façade, a smoke-screen to distract from this thing inside himself. That’s something I find really moving, that someone is aware of something within the core of their being, but they can’t embrace it, because they can’t communicate it.”
The End of Eddy, The Studio, August 21-26, 7pm, August 23-26, 2pm.
The Herald, August 16th 2018