As Proforca Theatre’s lauded dystopian drama At Last returns by popular demand with new dates in London and Coventry, we caught up with actor Melissa Phillips, who reprises her performance as a peacemaker in a future, highly divided UK. How has the experience changed her?
Heading outside of London for the first time, At Last runs for one night at the Albany Theatre Studio on 29 November 2019, before returning to Proforca’s home at the Lion & Unicorn Theatre for five performances only from 3 to 7 December 2019.
On 8 June 2018, the UK Government collapses. A far-right regime falls after ten years. This is the story of what happened next… Out of the fire, rubble and ashes, something new is born. A chance to learn about the past and to discover who we were to save the future. A chance to find hope anew, or to tear open wounds which will never close again.
This is the story of when the world went mad. It is time to tell the truth. At Last.
At Last is co-written by James Lewis and Alexander Knott and helmed by Proforca artistic director David Brady with associate director Jess Barton.
Talking to… Melissa Phillips
In At Last, Melissa Phillips reprises her performance as Grace, who gathers testimonies for a truth and reconciliation committee after the collapse of an authoritarian regime in a future British dystopia. Since emigrating to the UK from New Zealand, Phillips’ stage credits have included At Last and Feel More for Proforca Theatre, as well as Material Girl at The Space and The Tempest at The Print Room (now Coronet Theatre).
What made you want to be an actor in the first place?
I’ve always loved storytelling. My parents would read to me regularly as a child, which fuelled my imagination and love for people and characters. Naturally, there are highs and lows for all actors, but these experiences help shape the work you do. There’s a deep feeling I get when I see amazing stories being shared on stage and on screen. From an early age, I remember buzzing with excitement and thinking “I want to do and feel more of that!”
This isn’t your first time working with Proforca. What else have you done?
I first worked with Proforça in 2018. My character (Jackie) was part of Feel More, a collection of vibrant contemporary monologues. This was exactly the kind of work I wanted to be doing. It was a great chance to meet new writers, actors and, of course, David Brady [Proforca founder and artistic director]! What I like about Proforça is that it’s a safe, inclusive company with a focus on strong storytelling, hard work and collaboration.
With the expansion of the company to the Lion & Unicorn Theatre, David has now been able to offer actors opportunities in all areas, not just on stage. As a result, I’ve learned so much more about the industry I’ve chosen to be a part of.
What did you think when you first read the script for At Last?
My journey with the script may be a bit different from the others. I remember reading parts during the early stages of development. At that time, I was excited and intrigued by the writing, but I was unsure how it would be received and if I was suited to the story and character. A big part of this was due to a lack of self-confidence. Thankfully, with support, time and perseverance, l learned to understand the world that these characters were living in. It was during the read-through when we all came together that I realised we had a powerful story to tell.
Tell us about your character.
Grace is an experienced lawyer and has spent much of her time collating testimonies and presenting them as evidence. She’s heard it all. She’s a narrator, there to connect the other storylines, and acts as the moral compass for the story. I like Grace because she’s a good listener and her core values mirror my own: integrity, love, fairness, personal responsibility, and kindness.
What were your personal highlights from the play’s original run?
Professionally, as an actor, I enjoyed the experience of playing an authority figure, something I’ve never done before! At Last was a success due to teamwork and huge support from friends, family and other creatives. We sold out most nights, and I loved speaking to people post-show and hearing their thoughts and feedback. I was also active in the development process, listening to samples of the music, helping build the set and such. It was great to be so involved!
Has your approach or views changed returning to the play since September?
Yes! I have new ideas of where I want to challenge myself as an actor. Going into this next run, I’ve set new intentions and focus points for my character. For example, where can I find more humour in her storyline? How has time affected her? I know the theatre space well, but this time I want to explore it further and find different ways to reach the audience and interact with other members of the cast.
How worried are you about the state of UK politics today?
I’m definitely concerned. I’d love to stay in the UK for the next few years. Particularly as a creative, it’s worrying to think how damaging a majority Conservative government will be. I’m not hugely political, I find it hard to follow at times. What I do know is that people are frustrated, and the message couldn’t be clearer – we demand and deserve better.
Could you imagine something like the events in the play actually happening?
Unfortunately yes, in some parts of the world. It’s something that no one wants to imagine ever happening in the UK or anywhere, hence the importance of the play.
What would you like audiences to take away from the play?
Understand that we are all accountable, we all have something to offer and a part to play. Having individual ownership and awareness will encourage others to shift and cultivate change. There’s strength and healing in forgiveness. Your thoughts, feelings and experiences are valid. Listen to people, you might learn something.
Why should audiences buy a ticket for At Last?
At Last is very timely given what’s happening in the UK. Based on the feedback from the initial run, the subject resonates and gets people talking. The writing and direction are brilliant. Everything you see on stage has been carefully thought out and has meaning and intention. I can’t wait to meet new people post-show and hopefully see some returning audience members.
At Last then returns to the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, 42-44 Gaisford St, Kentish Town, London NW5 2ED from 3 to 7 December 2019 with performances at 7.30pm. Tickets are priced £12-14. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
📸 Samuel Black Photography 👌🏿 pic.twitter.com/nrjZXBAQd6
— Melissa Phillips (@MelissaTalawa) November 15, 2019