Old Red Lion Theatre, London – until 25 March 2017
Families separated by war and conflict have kept in touch one way or another for time immemorial. Recently giving way to skype, texts and emails, letter writing is now largely neglected – but surviving relics betray heartache, fear and longing. International theatre company Althea Theatre draw on choral physical theatre and the intimate communications between family members from a range of global conflicts to create a moving tribute to love and patriotism.
The format is straightforward and simplistic – stories of various families are fragmented and alternated, with movement-driven transitions to indicate change. Physical and textual motifs eventually emerge, a helpful symbol particularly with the number of characters we encounter. Writer Lilac Yosiphon clearly distinguishes each story with distinctive vocabulary and tone, and includes the amount of time passing in each – a necessary device. The characters developed from the source texts are rich and compelling – it’s a shame that what with the large number they can’t unfold in more detail. If the piece is developed further, it would be more powerful to reduce the number of narratives.
Each is set in a distinct time and place; there’s a modern British couple separated by his tour in Afghanistan, a Columbian mother seeks asylum after her husband is kidnapped, an American man writes to his wife of the horrors of Vietnam. There’s also a high school in Israel preparing children for national service, and couples living in both world wars. Some stories are given more time than others, but common themes emerge from the experiences of everyday people. This is where the power of the piece lives – the impact of war on individual relationships rather than a larger populace.
The ensemble is skillful and precise; the choreography they devised is rich with feeling – longing and resilience are always evident. Their ability to tell stories with a fluid mix of dialogue and movement is the strongest element of the piece. Individual characters shine through without overpowering the whole, and they each have a high level of ability to multi-role. Dialect coaching by Laura Keele is reflected in spot-on accents; even the American ones pass as native. Props are used sparingly but their employment effectively emphasises important moments and adds a bit of token comedy.
One Last Thing (For Now) certainly packs power and emotional impact, though the vehicle needs a bit of fine-tuning. Reducing the number of stories will allow for more in-depth exploration and sophisticated storytelling. Perhaps an exclusive focus on couples/lovers, the predominant relationship on show will further emphasise the themes. The others we see don’t lack impact, but neither do they fit the dominant formula. In any case, the performances and the piece’s overarching messages are worth seeing.