Lately is the third new play premiered by and specially created for new writing company Proforca Theatre to be performed at London’s Lion & Unicorn Theatre, following four-hander Feel, about millennials in London, and dystopian drama At Last, in which a large cast resisted a totalitarian state.
It also happens to be the third for which I’ve chaired a post-show Q&A to not only discuss the writing but to help launch a new season at the theatre, run by Proforca Theatre artistic director David Brady.
Lately, an intimate two-hander that takes the action out of the company’s previous urban settings to an unnamed ‘somewhere’ small town in England, was originally due to premiere in April 2020. Apart from the change of dates of the run (and my Q&A!), how does the Lately we might have seen in April 2020 differ from what we now see in September 2021.
The key difference is apparent from the configuration at the Q&A: David Brady and myself plonked in the middle of the panel, flanked by two, carefully separated casts – Gabrielle Nellis-Pain and Fred Wardale, and Lauren Ferdinand and Matt Wake – who alternate performances as the play’s protagonists, Alison and Callum.
Having two casts, of course, reduces the risk of Covid alerts requiring performances to be cancelled, but what are the other artistic benefits? And, with Constellations also having success with rolling casts in the West End, might this be a feature we’ll see more of in the future?
At the Lion & Unicorn, the Lately casts have barely even spoken. Apart from the Q&A, they had only met once for a photoshoot. They didn’t rehearse together and, purposely, have not watched any of the other’s performance. The result, says Brady, is two wholly different interpretations – in essence, two different shows – that positively encourages repeat attendance. (I, for one, certainly hope to get back to see the cast I’ve missed.)
In Lately, Callum and Alison are childhood friends, and sometimes lovers, who strain against their dysfunctional families and closed community. They were supposed to be part of each other’s lives forever, if only the universe had let things happen the way they should. But whoever they were before, they’re different people now, and the problem with living here is that it always pulls you back again, no matter how hard you try to get away.
During the post-show talk, we discussed the casting approach and Proforca’s collaborative creative process, as well various other topics including the play’s themes of mental health, ‘somewhere’ versus ‘everywhere’, and how lockdown affected the performers’ attitude to their characters and acting in general. We also previewed other highlights of the Lion & Unicorn’s autumn season, hearing from many of the other theatremakers in the audience.
How did artistic director David Brady feel being in a room with so much talent, energy and enthusiasm that he was helping to bring to the stage? “It’s a privilege,” he concluded.
Lately continues at London’s Lion & Unicorn Theatre until 18 September 2021.
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On the panel, from left to right by pairs: actors Gabrielle Nellis-Pain and Fred Wardale (cast 1), director David Brady and me, Terri Paddock, and actors Lauren Ferdinand and Matt Wake (cast 2). Event photography by Peter Jones.
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