May 22, 2017

Theatre Review: Late Company at Finborough Theatre

Photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
Tackling the sensitive subject matters of suicide, sexuality and depression, Late Company is subtle in its delivery, but by no means skirts around the issues. It hits with a hard punch right to the gut and puts you through the wringer, leaving you reeling afterwards.

Directed by Michael Yale, who directed This Little Life of Mine at Park Theatre last year (read my review here), and written by Canadian Jordan Tannahill, Late Company is set in Canada. The play casts the audience as the awkward – in this case – sixth wheel to a domestic dispute. When we meet married couple Michael (Todd Boyce) and Debora Shaun-Hastings (Lucy Robinson), they are fussing over placemats and pacing – backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.

It’s been a year since their 16-year-old, openly gay son, Joel, committed suicide. They have invited one of the boys who bullied Joel at school, Curtis Dermot (David Leopold), and his parents Bill (Alex Lowe) and Tamara (Lisa Stevenson) over for dinner.

When they arrive, Tamara’s a bundle of nerves, wrapped up in a neat package of blood orange colour coordination, while Bill makes strained small talk and Curtis is practically a mute. They’ve gathered so that Debora and Curtis can exchange letters about words unspoken and feelings unshared since the incident. All the while, a chair at the table remains empty for Joel, his absence looming large – the elephant in the room.

Curtis (David Leopold) reads his letter to Debora (Lucy Robinson), photo courtesy of Charlie Round-Turner
Robinson is adept at moving between Debora’s emotions of explosive rage and whimpering remorse. She’s like a simmering pot of suppression – until she boils over. In one scene, she throws and smears guacamole around the room. Debora is a metalwork artist and as she engages in her solo food fight, she’s exploring a whole new type of art – performance.

With the Dermots’ insufferable nattering to eradicate any uncomfortable silences and their self-serving comments – “boys will be boys” and “you’re inviting trouble when you flaunt your sexuality” – we can hardly blame Debora for throwing guacamole, nor would we blame her for throwing punches.

What Late Company gets right is that feeling of something bubbling just underneath the surface. It’s evident in Curtis, who’s seemingly furtive and emotionless, but also acutely attuned to his memory of Joel. The play does not directly address why, but we can come to our own conclusions – and that’s enough.

The timing and the venue could not have been a more perfect fit for the staging of Late Company. It began its run on April 25th, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week from May 8-14th, and came to a close this weekend.

The Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court is entered and exited through the pub, which makes for a quaint off-West End theatregoing experience. With its 50-seat capacity, it makes the growing tension in Late Company palpable – and inescapable. This is especially true from my front row seat as an invisible guest, a fly on the wall of a very difficult conversation.

Rihanna’s “Stay”, the original featuring Mikky Ekko, is a chilling backdrop to an already chilling narrative that informs the play’s dialogue. “I want you to stay…” And stay with you, this play will.

Find out more about the Finborough Theatre here.