THOM WAITE reviews One Last Thing (For Now) at the Old Red Lion Theatre.
Althea Theatre Company’s One Last Thing (For Now) is a tapestry of scenes inspired by love letters written during wartime across a wide span of time, cultures, and languages. Through these brief vignettes of wartime correspondence, the international ensemble explore how communication is integral to the way that relationships are formed and maintained, and how love can be found in even the most dire situations. Miscommunication is a recurring theme of the performance: difficulties arise in the form of language barriers, censorship, and the fact that, sometimes, we simply cannot express how we truly feel about the ones we love.
The Old Red Lion Theatre is a small venue, no more than a single (thankfully soundproofed) room above a noisy pub of the same name. For the production, half of the space was occupied by a large backdrop of letters exploding outwards from the floor to the ceiling. Despite the lack of space, however, not one of the eight cast members left the stage throughout the whole performance, each fluidly shifting in and out of roles as the narratives flitted back and forth. At times the constant presence of the entire cast in the small space was a little overwhelming, but overall it just worked, particularly when the cast members took on roles as stage furniture to make up for the lack of props (a single chair, a guitar, and a trombone). In one particularly well-framed moment a character held the trombone aloft to mimic standing in a train carriage, swaying in a steady rhythm with the movements of the train. Accordingly, each of the stories was punctuated by more abstract performances with elements of mime and physical theatre, flowing into one another seamlessly, accompanied by Angus McRae’s original music, which ranged from simple, airy classical pieces to pounding electronic bass.
These stories were emotionally diverse: tragic, comic, and touching in quick succession, and often simultaneously. The action flipped swiftly between stories: a Russian officer who writes to women to inform them of their husband’s deaths; a woman who sends Skype messages to her boyfriend in Afghanistan; a refugee fearing for her family during the civil war in Colombia; and a woman who cuts off her hand to send a ‘touch’ to her husband fighting in the First World War; among others. Combined, these narratives offered an insight into a diverse array of cultures, reflected in the mixed nationalities, sexualities, and religions of the characters, portrayed by a cast performing in a number of languages.
Though the themes were often dark — particularly Afghanistan-deployed boyfriend (Tom Shah), who struggled to express his love to his girlfriend back home in the face of potential death, and conflicted Russian officer (Cole Michaels) — humour was injected throughout the highly physical performance, as well as the odd blast of the trombone.
There is undoubtedly an important message to be taken from the many tales of One Last Thing (For Now). The shared experiences of people across various cultures, whether they are one hundred years in the past or our geographically distant contemporaries, created a sense of unity that bridges cultural divides and language barriers to communicate a message of love and loss. One Last Thing (For Now) encourages the audience to experience life from a different perspective and empathise with those who have been (or still are) trapped in situations much more difficult than their own. Althea Theatre set out to challenge issues faced by modern Britain through exploring national and international viewpoints, and here they have succeeded.
Althea Theatre’s One Last Thing (For Now) is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 25th March. Find tickets and more info here.
Featured image courtesy of www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk