BWW Review: LATE COMPANY, Trafalgar Studios
Michael Yale gives new life to Jordan Tannahill's Late Company at Trafalgar Studios after a critically acclaimed run at Finborough Theatre earlier this year. The cast is once again inspiring and the production is even more poignant than the last.
Joel Shaun-Hastings' suicide leaves his family broken. In their struggle to cope with his death, his mother Debora (Lucy Robinson) and father Michael (Todd Boyce) decide to invite their son's bully Curtis (David Leopold) and his parents Bill (Alex Lowe) and Tamara (Lisa Stevenson) to dinner. What starts off as an attempt to find closure and celebrate Joel's life becomes a stand-off between the two families, with plenty of heartache and liability.
Tannahill's play provides bountiful insights on teen suicide, sexuality, bullying, and even parenthood. With a sharp style imbued with dry humour and a penchant for witty one-liners that drag out sour laughs, the playwright uncovers the dangers of bullying but lets his audiences come to their own conclusions. By making his characters take turns to pit each of them against the other, he keeps shifting the blame and turning the situation upside down.
As Michael points out, "It's not about blame", but it clearly is from the beginning, as an endless loop of guilt and grief starts because of the unforgiving nature of a parent's loss. Debora is the first to let all pretences fall when she straightforwardly accuses Curtis of single-handedly killing her son.
However, it is evident that his parents don't hold it against him and prefer to avoid blaming their child in favour of attributing Joel's suicide to the environment he was living in. Their version of the story is validated by the fact that the teen was being treated for depression and allegedly ignored by his parents, leading him to seek attention elsewhere, flaunting his sexuality at school.
"Whatever we did, we did it to be funny," is how Curtis defends his actions under his mother's approving and prompting gaze. After making Curtis read a simple-yet-heartfelt letter where he explains how sorry he is and how it wasn't his intention to ever push his classmate to kill himself, Tannahill tackles the issue of bullying in an unprecedented way by presenting the bullied as a bully himself, creating yet again another vicious circle.
In fact, it is revealed that Joel made YouTube videos where he distinctly talked about all the people he wanted to see dead, including Curtis and his friends. By layering his play, the writer holds up a mirror to real life's complicated and unsure nature.
Zahra Mansouri's set design is snazzier and more detailed. The dining room is spotless in its simple grandeur and shows off the Shaun-Hastings' significant wealth better than at the Finborough. The glass table and matching chairs give an airy vibe to the otherwise leaden and grey atmosphere of the room.
Director Michael Yale retains his solid but subtle direction of the company, pushing them to give their best in a stunning ensemble performance. Robinson and Stevenson are intense and fierce in their deadlock in two very different ways. The latter's openness and will to take a step closer to her counterpart bounces back off the former's relentless attitude. Robinson's portrayal of the matriarch is statuesque but unafraid to crumble under the weight of her son's death, while Stevenson is ready to go the extra mile to protect her son.
Boyce and Lowe are strong in their characters' masculinity, their silent and probably subconscious avoidance of the reason why they've all gathered together a subtle critique from the writer. Michael's acceptance of his son's being different is opposed to Bill's desire for his to fit in, and the actors both find strength in their reasonings.
Once again, Leopold matches the older cast in his sullen and reflective performance; teenage hardship and oppressive guilt permeate his devastating delivery, making Curtis a career-defining role for the young actor.
A definitely triumphant West End transfer, Late Company is the reminder of the complex and impenetrable nature of the relationship between loss and blame. By casting a light on the effects of grief and self-righteousness on two families' different healing processes, it broadens the discussion on ever-relevant themes and acts as a memento of the impact words and actions have on people's lives.
Photo credit: Alastair Muir