Trafalgar Studios, London – until 16 September 2017
Guest reviewer: Bhakti Gajjar
The stage is set for a dinner party in Late Company, a play that is making a rare and well-deserved transfer across town from the Fringe’s Finborough to the West End’s Trafalgar Studios. The opening dialogue is packed with wit and humour and yet, as the audience quickly discovers, this is not a happy occasion; it’s quite the opposite. This is a dinner that, much like Titus Andronicus’ endgame, is a meal that not one person around the table wishes to attend.
Joel Shaun-Hastings – the only child of Debora and Michael – has recently taken his own life and one of his bullying peers is Curtis Dermot. A child tormented by guilt that is, for a large part, compounded by an external narrative and gossip, Dermot is invited to this dinner of penance with his parents. The evening could almost be simultaneously billed as a cure both for the Shaun-Hastings’ grief as well as for the Curtis’ individual and familial demons – a very tall order.
Over guacamole, pasta and wine, the tale unravels. New facts come to light throughout the evening, each adding a new layer of complexity to the story and ultimately serving to cloud assignment of blame.
And the blame is spread in many different directions. Both sets of parents face scrutiny about their parenting styles. Attitudes to sexuality within the room and in society are examined, while mental health, bullying, perception and social media usage are also examined. It’s clear that there are many factors at play here, explored in a tight 75 minutes by a sterling cast.
Todd Boyce and Alex Lowe play the fathers and Lucy Robinson and Lisa Stevenson the mothers. Robinson is excellent in her ability to capture the dual tension of Debora’s grief. Her bereaved mother not only has a need to grieve but also to find closure. Stevenson provides a complex emotional ballast to her counterpart, in a majestic performance.
Arguably, the most striking character on the stage is David Leopold’s Curtis. The weight of his guilt appears to flit between being negligible and crushing – and it is this that sits at the crux of the problem in Debora’s eyes. Tough questions are raised about the nature of remorse and how it should be demonstrated, or indeed even recognised, in the most appropriate manner.
Most gripping is the fact that Curtis is a child, or at least he was. When offered a drink, he asks for a glass of milk and taps away on his phone as expected of a regular teenager. Yet although the milk is soon forgotten, replaced by a cigarette outside, it remains in plain sight; a constant reminder that he is straddling that perilous transition from childhood to adulthood. As the evening progresses, his growth is alternately impressive and heart-breaking.
75% of suicides are male, as information from Campaign Against Living Miserably in the programme informs us. And as the play aptly illustrates, it is a deeply complex issue that can be unpacked to some extent on stage, but leaves a plethora of further questions unanswered.
Under Michael Yale’s capable direction, Late Company is a high-calibre, punchy production with excellence running through every strand. After launching from an intriguing premise, it runs rapidly through a series of highly pertinent themes, sparking thoughts that continue well after the figurative curtain falls.
Runs until 16 September
Reviewed by Bhakti Gajjar