Late Company @ the Finborough Theatre – ★★★★★
Late Company is on at the Finborough Theatre in London SW10 until May 20th, 2017.
When we went home last Thursday after watching Late Company, I couldn’t wait to sit down and write my review. When I finally did sit down, I couldn’t. The characters were still occupying my brain and I found it difficult to express what I wanted to say in words. Now, a couple of days later, I am still thinking about this play, and I guess I will for a long time.
I am not going to go too much into the story line, as I don’t want to give it away, but one thing certain: it is a brilliant, well-written, intelligent play. I think everybody should go and see it and for some people it should be made compulsory viewing. Bullying and teenage suicide are probably not everybody’s idea of a great night out, but award-winning Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill has written a script, when he was just 23 years of age, that is sensitive, humorous and hard hitting all at the same time. He wrote the play after the suicide of one of his peers, a gay suburban teen, in Canada’s Ottawa, but for him this was just the starting point to ask questions about parenting, peer pressure, sexuality and how to deal with it all.
Bullying is always unacceptable and too many children and teens suffer silently through their school years, but in the last few years cyber-bulling has put a new slant on this torture and, unless we all do something about it, is probably not going to go away anytime soon. But who is responsible for monitoring our children? Teachers? Their peers? Parents? As Jordan Tannahill says: “The 21st century parent has to navigate a landscape of uncertainty on a day to day basis. How much space should they give their child? When should they confront their child about sexuality, antisocial behaviour, depression? How well can we ever really know our children? And what responsibility do we have for each other’s children?” So many questions and no easy answers.
In Late Company, which takes place a year after 16-year old Joel Shaun-Hastings took his own life, his parents, conservative politician Michael and sculptress Debora, prepare to meet Curtis Dermot, one of the teenagers who bullied their son and his parents, hockey mum Tamara and regular guy, working class dad Bill, at their home for dinner. The idea is to bring everything out into the open, find closure and move on. But is it? Do people have other motives?
The evening starts off quite civilised, with Debora laying the dinner table in her elegant but understated dining room (set by Zahra Mansouri) and fretting about whether to use napkin rings, deciding they are too formal. But soon after the Dermot’s finally arrive, and even before they all sit down for their meal, the walls of civility and politeness break down and everything comes out into the open. The play only lasts 75 minutes, but I have never experienced a gamut of emotions like this portrayed by any cast of actors. Hate, love, forgiveness, hurt, despair, sorrow, sympathy, rage, agony, pride, empathy, regret, sadness, fear, shame, pity, kindness, heartache, defensiveness, envy, but most of all grief all come to the surface and nobody seems to be able to stem the flow.
Lucy Robinson, who plays Debora, is excellent as the mother who can’t get over the death of her only child and, I have to say, I feel for her, having to play this emotionally draining role every day. Todd Boyce, who portraits her husband Michael, is believable as the slightly aloof father, who loved his son but has to admit to himself and the others that he probably didn’t know him as well as he thought. I really enjoyed watching Lisa Stevenson as Tamara, who first comes across a slightly dizzy character who tries to keep the evening on track but when her child is attacked, turns into a lioness defending her cub. Alex Lowe is giving a great performance as Bill, the down to earth guy who doesn’t believe in the virtue of this get-together from the start, but has come along to support his family and whose parenting style is so different to that of the Shaun-Hastings’. Last, but by no means least, credit hast to go to the wonderful David Leopold as the sulking, uncommunicative teen Curtis, who is so excruciatingly uncomfortable in this difficult situation he has been put in that you can almost feel it yourself, but who also shows glimmers of intelligence and empathy as the evening goes on.
Director Michael Yale certainly gets the most out of his cast in this superbly written play which, as I said before, I will remember for a long, long time.
118 Finborough Road