Michael Yale on Late Company: What a 23-year-old playwright taught me about parenting

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The European premiere of Late Company, running at London’s Finborough Theatre until this Saturday 20 May 2017, has attracted a lot of Mates’ attention. Here, director Michael Yale explains what first attracted him to the play…

I was drawn instantly to Late Company on first reading. The power of the writing and the subject matter were so compelling that I brought it to the attention of producer Eilene Davidson in the hope that it would be our next collaboration together as Stage Traffic. Happily she instantly felt exactly about the play as I did.

Within a few weeks we managed to get the European rights and I met and was charmed by the play’s writer Jordan Tannahill. This incredible young man wrote the play a few years ago when he was only 23. When we met, I was full of questions for him about how he came to write such a powerful piece of theatre and what his inspiration was.

Jordan told me the play was written as a reaction to news of a peer’s suicide in Ottawa, Canada. He told me at the time he was angry by what he described as the political and parental hypocrisies that he felt surrounded him at that time. As time has passed, he says he still feels some of that anger but also great empathy for the 21st century parent “navigating a landscape of uncertainty day to day”.

“How well do parents really know their children? How much should they supervise the cybersphere? How much space should they give their children?”

The play deals with the aftermath of a suicide of a teenager, who took his own life after being bullied at school and on social media because of his being “different”. A year after the suicide, in an attempt to find some sort of closure, the boy’s parents invite the boy accused of being the main tormentor of their son, together with his parents, to a kind of restorative justice dinner party.

The play looks at the difficult questions that are faced by modern parents: how well do they really know their children? how much should they supervise the cybersphere? how much space should they give their children? when should they confront their children about sexuality? anti-social behaviour or mental health issues?

Jordan offers no firm answers to those questions; how could he? But he says he firmly believes in the “collective value of asking them”.

I don’t remember ever working on a show before when all the cast and production team have become so involved on such an emotional level, myself included. I think the reason for this is that Jordan’s brilliantly powerful script explores areas of life that everyone can relate to and have been affected by at some stage in their lives.

If that sounds like rehearsals were somber affairs full of doom and gloom, let me assure you that was not the case at all, far from it. Although intense and focused, the camaraderie and openness needed to create the production led to one of the most enjoyable of rehearsal periods. We debated the issues, shared personal stories and nurtured the development of a genuine bond between us all. It was like taking on a challenging journey, but with traveling companions who are great company.

Surprisingly, perhaps, for such dark material, the play has much humour and it’s that and it’s humanity that helps the audience digest the difficult situations being played out in front of them.

Late Company has received its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre

Keeping CALM

I felt a great responsibility taking on Late Company to be sensitive and accurate in its portrayal of the subject matter. Early in the process, we approached the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) telling them about the production and asking for help and advice. They read the play and met with us, and I’m delighted to say, agreed to support the production.

I’m so delighted that the production has been brilliantly received by critics and audiences alike, but the one accolade that has meant so much to me is the feedback that I received from CALM after seeing the production for the first time.

They felt that our show “encapsulated perfectly the emotions of those who are left behind after someone has committed suicide, the fact that blame is heavily involved and that often there is no real resolution.” They felt it was a show they wanted to spread the word about as much as possible, to not only provide support for those who have been in similar situations, but as it continues the conversation about changing the stigma surrounding mental health as well as the dangers of social media and bullying.

I am so happy and proud that while theatre can, of course, be superbly entertaining it can also play its part in being such a powerful tool for change.

Late Company finishes its run at the Finborough Theatre on 20 May 2017.

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.