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Review: LATE COMPANY, Finborough Theatre

As part of its celebrations for Canada's 150th birthday, Finborough Theatre hosts the premiere of Late Company. Jordan Tannahill's play is a poignant reflection, tackling bullying, sexuality and teen suicide from the point of view of those surviving the victim.

Months after Joel Shaun-Hastings' death, his family holds a dinner party - inviting the teenage boy they blame for their son's demise, Curtis (David Leopold), and his parents. Initially a celebration of Joel's accomplishments and the chance to find closure of sorts, Debora Shaun-Hastings (Lucy Robinson) soon drops all pretence and starts a vicious circle of blame and grief.

Director Michael Yale starts building up anticipation even before the play begins, letting the sound of a ticking clock fill the room, and Zahra Mansouri's design gives the audience visual hints of the striking difference between the two families. The set highlights Joel's background of substantial wealth, even though the curtains could have done with some ironing given their owner's rigour...

Lucy Robinson and Lisa Stevenson (Debora Shaun-Hastings and Tamara Dermot respectively) are a joy to watch, embodying two women seemingly united in their maternal role, but who eventually take divergent stands. Robinson's poised attitude and eventual loss of control are elegantly matched by Stevenson's nervous movements and attempts at understanding. Robinson concretises Debora's matriarch-like attitude with grandeur, making her the focal point of the play.

There are strong performances from the men too, with David Leopold playing the ever-sulking and highly intelligent Curtis Dermot. As one of those who contributed to young Joel's suicide, his guilt and internal teenage distress are portrayed flawlessly by Leopold, who manages to convey his feelings with short but straight-to-the-point observations accompanied by exhaustive body language.

Todd Boyce and Alex Lowe are as crucial as their female counterparts, personifying two different versions of fatherhood. Both are remarkably old-fashioned, but with the valuable difference that Boyce's character had to come to terms with his son's not fitting into the typical high-school jock mould, unlike Lowe's.

Tannahill's work leavens a significant subject with sharp humour, and while it does not try to give an answer to Joel's death, it addresses the larger question of parenthood and bullying in the 21st century, with insight into the role of new media.

It's also a chastening reminder of the possible consequences of our actions. For Curtis, making fun of Joel was just a way to pass the time and it did not cross his nor his friends' minds that what they were doing was harming him. In their eyes, he was seeking attention by flaunting his sexuality at school, therefore he deserved it.

Tannahill lets his audience draw their own conclusions by having a heart-broken and grief-stricken mother confronting a strictly conservative man who believes her son should have seen it coming.

The two families pass around accusations, demonstrating that there is no absolute, nor undeniable, answer to their grief. Tannahill's work draws attention to the dangers of bullying, and his tale is an affecting portrait of the aftermath of teenage suicide, showing different sides to the story and explaining how complex and incomprehensible blame really is.

Late Company runs at Finborough Theatre until 20 May.

Photo credit: Charlie Round-Turner

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