Last Orders, Lion And Unicorn Theatre - Review

There's something about Christmas lights that automatically transport you moodwise to the close of the year, both beautiful and sad at the same time. My immediate reaction upon seeing the decorations and Christmas tree in Last Orders was: "The lights are on, but nobody's home" – an apt description, literally and metaphorical, for the characters' predicament and state of mind.

Written and directed by Lucy Laing, Last Orders focuses on a reunion of sorts – three old friends who meet up shortly before Christmas to commemorate the passing away of someone they knew years ago. Each has their own story to tell, each their own perspective of the deceased.

Dan (Keifer Bryson), a quiet, unassuming chap, has taken over running of the local pub from his parents, while Sally (Beatrice Allen) –  who used to go to his house as a child and once close to his mom – arrives late in the evening. David (Garry Hayden) shows up later, but not before Sally and Dan have briefly discussed what he's been up to – always guaranteed to be doing something that will raise eyebrows!

As someone who works in commerce in London, Sally's formal dress sense and distinct presence isn't so much a natural coincidence as a non-verbal statement she isn't the person they once knew. Benign, but grating comments about when is she going get married and her choice in the matter doesn't lighten the mood. The sharing of photographs later proves quite cathartic as they relive their childhood and teenage years. However David's final photographic contribution undoes the ambient nostalgia, as the more potent emotions of yesteryear resurface.

Plays that are (at least in part) about returning home tend to focus on the choices one once made. In Sally's case, her life is very different to the one she would have had if she had stayed. Would she have been happier, more fulfilled if her former boyfriend had lived and they eventually got married? Would she even change it all even if she could, knowing she would be a completely different person?

On the surface Sally appears to be defensive and keeps the others (emotionally) at arms' length. However, various revelations throughout the play give insightful clues as to why she behaves as she does and how little the lads really know her. They, in contrast, have 'kept the homes fire burning', yet the  tension between the characters is palpable. It isn't just the solemnity of the occasion. It is a million little things: Sally vehemence at only drinking tonic water, her disapproval of David's lifestyle choices and her 'displeasure' at hearing 'bad news'.

Allen as the misunderstood Sally conveys a cool exterior that belies a very vulnerable inner self, her prickly nature reinforced by years of erroneous assumptions. Meanwhile, the humourous interactions involving Bryson and Hayden sit comfortably between the revelations and the weighty matters of the heart, contributing overall to the bittersweet mood of the play. It is also a useful tool in subliminally showing how and why things have irrevocably changed between them and Sally.

Last Orders is Laing's first play and as such, shows great promise, deftly balancing the darker aspects of the narrative with well-rounded characters and keen eye for detail in the smaller moments.

© Michael Davis 2016

Last Orders runs at the Lion And Unicorn Theatre until Saturday 2nd July (4pm and 8pm).

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