How far would you go to safeguard your son’s future? Would you cheat? Would you lie?

Would you even betray your wife’s trust? That’s the premise of the latest new play to arrive at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester next week.

The Be All and End All is a contemporary drama by award-winning writer Jonathan Lewis that shows a politician’s family in crisis after he makes a life-changing decision to ensure his troubled 18-year-old son has the best possible start in life.

When his secrets and lies are exposed the result is an emotionally raw drama of a family split apart by the abuse of power and hunger for success.

The play has its world premiere at York Theatre Royal earlier this month before arriving at the Mercury before going on to the Windsor Theatre Royal. As well as another chance to see new writing, The Be All and End All has the added bonus of one of the country’s most successful actors, Imogen Stubbs, whose most recent stage appearances include Frantic Assembly’s Things I Know To Be True and Ruella in Communicating Doors at the Menier Theatre, London.

Gazette: Cast - Jonathan and Imogen with Robyn Cara and Matt Whitchurch

The Be All and End All is at the Mercury Theatre from May 22 to 26 at 7.30pm with 2.30pm shows on Thursday and Saturday. For tickets, priced £27 to £12, go on-line at or call the box office on 01206 573948.

How did you get involved in The Be All and End All?

The play is part of an Education, Education, Education trilogy written by my partner (Jonathan Lewis). We had both come through the GCSE experience with our children and formed the sense that the education system doesn’t seem to be working as well as it could be. But the play is about a lot more than the idea that exam results are not the be all and end all – it’s about the implosion of a family during the A-level exam period. It’s funny and scary and provocative.

Tell us about Charlotte in The Be All and End All?

She is successful in her own right but compromised. She loves her only child, wants him to do well but has also been a liberal mother so being matey while trying to be a parent. And she has been ill. Charlotte isn’t a million miles away from me as a character but what really interests me is to explore this subject matter of education and provoke discussion. There aren’t any easy answers, everyone is doing their best but at what point do we all stop and say no. If we do anything for our children it’s to allow them the possibility of hope and joy and optimism.

Gazette: Play - Imogen Stubbs and Jonathan Lewis

What’s wrong with our education system?

This is something I feel passionately about - the feeling that education has become such a business in terms of having to achieve targets. Everything is about needing pupils to reach targets for the school to keep its place in the tables. There are so many things about education that don’t make sense. You see children dedicating their life to revising and doing exams - following this stupid system of churning out endless exams. In primary school you see them doing everything kids love -running around, playing with Plasticine, singing songs, doing handstands. They’re joyful. Then you watch as education kills the joy and the wonder. In terms of the arts, progressively you see subjects that have been removed as ‘not relevant’. Every child should be given the chance of trying different instruments, to do dance, art and pottery.

You’ve recently spent some time away from acting - why?

Acting isn’t the be all and end all for me. For some people it is. For my daughter (Ellie Nunn) it is. She’s really passionate about it but I don’t think I’ve ever really been like that. Acting is a really lovely job, great team work and great way of expanding your knowledge of yourself and other people but there’s a whole world out there and as I get older I want to see it. I haven’t always been available for my family or friends. I’ve taken the last year to step outside acting to try and just live and to travel and not give up six months pretending to be someone else. I am enjoying being me. I don’t feel a compulsion to pretend to be someone else really.

Gazette: Imogen Stubbs and Jonathan Guy Lewis 1 - The Be All and End All - Photo by Anthony Robling (2)

What kind of roles appeal to you?

As a rule I like to play someone who is very different from me so I can explore what it’s like and try to get inside their head. The roles I’ve played recently are character parts and I really enjoy that. I just saw the brilliant Sally Hawkins in Maudie and she’s brilliant, completely immerses herself in the character. Or that wonderful French actress Marion Cotillard, who played Edith Piaf - brilliant. Pretending to be someone nothing like you is the excitement but we don’t live in a world where often you’re cast like that. You tend to be cast as your obvious self and that’s slightly embarrassing because it doesn’t feel much of a talent just being you.

Why is it important to see The Be All and End All?

Education is something everyone has an opinion about. Everyone in education is doing their best and there’s no easy answer to the amount of mental problems, of schoolchildren taking anti-depressants or self-harming, and of low self-esteem absolutely prevalent at schools and universities. We have to find a better way of allowing our children to have a childhood and not be branded by grades. Not judged, judged, judged. We scare children with education instead of inspiring them and sweeping their hearts up with the joy of learning. Obviously there are brilliant teachers out there and some schools get it right but most young people I now look back on their time at school and are overwhelmingly haunted by exams and grades. We’ve always had grades but I don’t remember worrying about that so much.