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BWW Review: LAST EASTER, Orange Tree Theatre


Bryony Lavery's touching, yet chaotic, play has its London premiere

BWW Review: LAST EASTER, Orange Tree Theatre

BWW Review: LAST EASTER, Orange Tree Theatre Inspired by a trip to Lourdes and the illness and death of a member of her cabaret group, Bryony Lavery's play Last Easter is a funny and engaging exploration of life, death and friendship. After June, a theatrical lighting designer, is diagnosed with cancer, her three friends decide that an Easter road trip to France, which just happens to include a pilgrimage to Lourdes, is in order.

The cast of four is strong. At the heart of the piece is Naana Agyei-Ampadu's June. She is cool, calm and resolute, as she friends flap around her in a panic. Agyei-Ampadu is quietly stoic, wanting to give her friends a focus as she becomes acutely aware that they are dealing with their own devastation at her illness.

Ellie Piercy is excellent in the role of actor Joy. Her story is arguably the more interesting one, as she battles with grief and guilt at the suicide of her boyfriend. Piercy, often acting drunk, is convincingly manic, self-absorbed and tortured. She is the representation of the fact that even when someone is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the difficulties others are facing do not stop.

Jodie Jacobs plays Jewish-American prop-maker Leah. Jacobs is sweetly dedicated to June and her breakdown at the prospect of losing her is very touching, but she suffers slightly from a lack of back-story. Even a burgeoning romance with Joy feels rushed.

Peter Caulfield plays Gash, a gay musician with a rather tired and clichéd passion for cabaret and casual sex. Caulfield brings some depth to the character, as he reveals the sensitivity beneath the brash exterior. His humour and off-hand comments disguise the pain he is feeling at the prospect of losing his friend.

Despite strong individual performances, Lavery's writing sometimes feels meandering and chaotic; a gallery scene showing June's love for Caravaggio and the pilgrimage section itself feel awkward. The big issue of the production is euthanasia, but there is no significant exploration of it from either a moral or religious standpoint.

Humour offers a degree of medicine and stops the subject of the play from becoming mired in doom; there are some funny asides to the audience and a question about the suitability of using a supermarket bag for life to suffocate someone is sharp and very amusing. However, the use of fart jokes and Gash's stream of terrible gags quickly become wearing.

Director Tinuke Craig uses the small space energetically and intelligently; the scenes in the car are deftly executed using chairs on castors and even as June lays on a large hospital bed, the bed is wheeled round so she can be seen by all sides of the audience.

Elliot Griggs' lighting design is beautiful, creating much of the atmosphere of the production. From spotlights to neon signs and Christmas lights, we are constantly reminded of the significance of light to June herself.

Last Easter showcases a talented cast and features both funny and tender moments, but it feels as though the script hasn't explored the big issues it touches upon in any depth.

Last Easter is at Orange Tree Theatre until 7 August

Photo Credit: Helen Murray

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