WHAT happens to a family when privilege is abused and trust vanishes? When cheating becomes a code to live by and deception a justified means to an end?

Jonathan Lewis puts these questions under the spotlight in his new play The Be All And End All, whose world premiere at York Theatre Royal next month will star Imogen Stubbs, Lewis's partner.

Rehearsals began this week under the direction of Theatre Royal artistic director Damian Cruden, working with a cast of four that also features Lewis himself (under his stage name of Jonathan Guy Lewis), Matt Whitchurch and Robyn Cara. Natasha Bertram will provide the set and costume design; Richard G Jones, the lighting design.

"Would you cheat? Would you lie? Would you betray your wife’s trust? Would you do absolutely anything to safeguard your son’s future?" asks Lewis, whose play 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.

Imogen Stubbs makes her York Theatre Royal debut after stage appearances in Frantic Assembly’s Things I Know To Be True, Alphabetical Order and Strangers On A Train. Her other stage work includes Othello, The Rover and Two Noble Kinsmen for the Royal Shakespeare Company; Gertrude in the Old Vic's Hamlet; Orpheus Descending and Private Lives at Manchester Royal Exchange and Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London.

Twice she has performed at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, first in the premiere of Ben Elton's Blast From The Past in 1998 and then in the lead role in John Webster's The Duchess Of Malfi eight years later.

In The Be All And End All, Stubbs will play the politician's wife, Charlotte, opposite Lewis as Mark, the politician who oversteps the mark. Matt Whitchurch will follow up his Theatre Royal appearance as Mr Darcy in Sara Pascoe’s version of Pride And Prejudice last October by playing the son, Tom, with Robyn Cara completing the cast as his girlfriend Frida.

Lewis’s play Our Boys won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best New Fringe play and had a successful return to the West End in 2012, and only last week Solider On, the play he wrote and directed for a company of ex-soldiers and actors, played to standing ovations at the Theatre Royal Studio in a Soldiers' Arts Academy touring production.

As an actor, this former Army scholar has had recurring television roles in Soldier Soldier, Coronation Street and London’s Burning, and his theatre credits include the one man show I Found My Horn, Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge and Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men.

"The idea for The Be All And End All evolved from a conversation with my son after he did his GCSEs. I hadn’t quite understood the pressure schoolkids are under," says Lewis. "As I started to talk to him about it, I realised it was not just him I was interested in but how that affected me and my relationship with my ex-wife and the teacher – and the pressure on them all.

"One of the themes is the education system’s obsession with exams and grades. If you try and put numbers around everything, you are not telling the whole story. The education system has been turned into a business and just testing children about what they know."

Stubbs adds: "We both feel very strongly about the potential damage done by homogenising education that, at its worst, becomes battery farming rather than organic. I don’t remember exams dominating my life the way they dominate children’s lives now."

The Be All And End All is one of three plays Lewis is writing for his Education, Education, Education trilogy. The first, A Level Playing Field, was staged at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre in 2015 with a cast of school leavers. The third, as yet untitled, will look at the state of education from a teacher’s viewpoint.

The Be All And End All will play York Theatre Royal from May 4 to 19, then tour to Colchester and Windsor. York performances will be at 7.30pm, evenings, and 2pm matinees on May 10 and 17 and 2.30pm, May 12 and 19. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson