Saturday, 26 August 2017

Review Late Company

A compelling dinner party drama laced with dark humour grips Peter Barker with its dissection of parental responsibility and grief. 

Late Company
by Jordan Tannahill

The Blame Game

Late Company is a searing tale of how adults and their teenage children behave when driven by anger, grief, love, and confusion.

Debora (Lucy Robinson) has arranged a dinner party so that she and her husband Michael (Todd Boyce) will finally meet Bill (Alex Lowe) and Tamara (Lisa Stevenson), as well as their son Curtis (David Leopold), a classmate of the hosts' son  Joel. 

It's a year since, at the age of 16, Joel killed himself leaving heart-broken and uncomprehending parents.

The Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill sets this  drama in contemporary Toronto where Joel's father Michael is an ambitious Ontario government minister while mother Deborah is an artist, producing challenging  molten metal sculptures.

A work she calls “Thatcher" looks  like a cross between a Francis Bacon painting and a failed chemistry experiment.
The son of the guests, Curtis had by his own admission, along with others, bullied Joel, a self-proclaimed gay outsider. 

Debora has taken a leaf out of a psychology self-help book and the dinner is part of the plan inspired by it for all of them to move on. This proves a recipe for disaster.

Yet under the surface charm and social graces,  Robinson in a compelling performance as the grieving Debora is both frightening and fragile. Eventually as the meal progresses, her rage drives the action.

In spite of their barely suppressed sense of superiority beneath a polite exterior, the hosts are wrongfooted when they discover Bill has the same level of university education as Michael. 

Director Michael Yale serves the playwright well, carefully pacing the 75 minutes one act play as Tannahill unravels with skill a complex situation, ranging from the viciously funny to the thoughtful knotting and unknotting of issues and personalities.

Michael is a smooth and initially somewhat unsympathetic politician.

However, Boyce's performance also gradually and effectively conveys his hurt and how deeply he cares matching Debora's vulnerability under her priggishness..

David Leopold as Bill and Tamara's hockey-playing son is a stand out. He captures a teenager's surly intelligence as he is forced to confront the reality of his involvement in a death and watch adults all at sea with the situation. 

His moroseness, insecurity, innocence and finally tenderness become the foil sharpening Debora’s anger and ultimately beginning the process of melting that anger.

As Curtis's father, Lowe gives three-dimensional life to a man dealing straightforwardly with an intractable situation.

Stevenson's Tamara reaches out to Debora. However she finds the total desolation of what has happened too much to handle and here one of the play's most wrenching, visceral truths emerges.    

Late Company is as much, if not more, drama than comedy. However like Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party and Moira Buffini's Dinner, Late Company is driven by a strong woman in a grotesque, self-made situation as the engine for the action. Nevertheless Debora eventually gains the audience's sympathy as a multi-faceted woman. 

Tannahill wrote this play at the age of 23 and it's an impressive, accomplished piece fully deserving its transfer from the Finborough Theatre to Whitehall's Trafalgar Studios.

It's a green light for the twists and turns in this absorbing, stimulating production where the dinner party leads the bereaved couple to discover solace in an unexpected place. 

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