Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London – until 18 September 2021
Young love is under the microscope in James Lewis’ knotty two-hander, Lately, at the Lion and Unicorn.
Callum and Alison are instantly drawn to each other when they meet at school. Or it could be university. We never know. We’re in Shithole-on-Sea and our sense of place is, fittingly, all at sea. This lack of anchoring mirrors the development of a recognisably modern relationship. There’s affection, but no spoken commitment. Are they friends with benefits, or a couple; is this love, or companionship? Neither fleeting nor forever, it just is.
Fashionably, both characters bring misery memoirs to the party. Callum’s is one of pay-day loan sharks and domestic violence that sent his mother running and left him to take the blows in her place. Alison sees commonality in their suffering because her father left the family to live with a woman half his age who runs a nail bar. The disparity between painful, lived, dysfunction, and the perceived knocks of the entitled is writ large.
When Alison is given £5000 by her father – she’s scornful because he hands it over in an envelope – she asks Cal to go to Thailand with her, not realising that her stable if unhappy home life gifts her the freedom, as well as the dosh, to take off. Cal has so little already. By leaving, he risks losing even that. So he stays.
We already know the ending from the clunky opening of Lately and it takes a while for the characters to develop. Once that happens, this one-hour piece becomes an interesting study of boy-girl relationships. In Thailand, Alison is having a great time, but she thinks of Cal in-between snogging Australians and getting wasted in the sun.
In Shithole-on-Sea, Cal is struggling. Life changes, which might have been his salvation, simply isolate him further. How and where might he run?
Two casts alternately perform Lately. We had Gabrielle Nellis-Pain as Alison, and the bewitching Fred Wardale as Callum. As the performance finds its stride, it is Wardale’s captivating performance as the troubled young man that is drawn out on stage at the Lion and Unicorn, underscored by Ali’s concerned but self-absorbed narration. (Lauren Ferdinand and Matt Wake feature at other performances).
Director David Brady serves austerity well, creating a set from two boxes, a blanket, and short video backdrops. Dinner in the pub downstairs is recommended as a first act.