Finborough Theatre, London – until 20 May 2017
Jordan Tannahill’s taut, 70 minute darkly comic real-life social drama Late Company draws two Toronto couples into God of Carnage country as they attempt to broker closure over the suicide of Joel, bullied at high school for homosexuality, and confront the teenager who may have been his antagonist. We’re also in Teddy Ferrara territory, although Tannahill’s script is cleaner and less confused than Christopher’s Shinn‘s multi-stranded story.
It’s not nearly so simple as it first seems, and the ambiguities of the situation are steadily released so that your assessment and prejudices for or against characters may shift several times during the course of the dinner party. This is a piece of assured writing and social realism which only occasionally exhibits signs of soapiness – and they are in the outcomes, not in the crafting of the dialogue. It was first produced when the author was only 23, which makes Tannahill a name to watch.
Even if you don’t move in the social circles of people who serve ‘cream pasta with scallops’ and put salad on the same plate, you will find points of reference and characters with whom you’ll identify. In real time on an authentic set and among a superb cast you shouldn’t miss Lucy Robinson’s glaciated middle class sculptress turning feral in defence of her lost son, or David Leopold’s brooding, near-mute Curtis intimating all his thoughts with body language.
For egalitarian Canada there are surprisingly weighted references to class, and Curtis’s parents, although their boys went to the same school, are clearly a notch down from their hosts. Lisa Stevenson as Tamara is outstanding at this, grasping equally gratefully the proffered glass of white wine and the opportunity to pull socially alongside the politician and his wife despite the hideous circumstance that has brought them together. In the real story on which the play is based, the politician was a local councillor in the city of Ottawa, but Tannahill makes him an MP, and with a characterisation that requires Todd Boyce to play him as a repressed stuffed shirt.
This play can affect you on many different levels, from indignation to defensiveness. But if you are a parent, the universality of teenage vulnerability and the ease with which this happened to Joel, in real life to 15-year old Jamie Hubley, could – for a moment -break your heart.
Trivium: for something which could have been titled Ask The Family, it’s amusing Lucy Robinson is the daughter of its venerable host Robert Robinson.