One Last Thing (For Now) is a group devised play inspired by letters written during wars across different cultures, languages and times. An ensemble cast of 8 actors portrays a plethora of characters in stories told in short scenes of contrasting styles. Design elements of this production support the action well.
If you don’t care, you just don’t care, until it’s someone you know.
One Last Thing (For Now) is a group devised play inspired by letters written during wars across different cultures, languages and times. Lilac Yosiphon directed both performance and writing. Yosiphon is the artistic director of Althea Theatre and was recently endorsed by Arts Council England as a promising Exceptional Talent in the UK. One Last Thing (For Now) is in its premier season at The Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington.
Letters from the warfront to loved ones waiting at home have inspired art for a long Time, including many plays. The immediacy of the words, both in what is said and what remains un-worded, is highly emotive. The private letters bring wars back to the individual. In some respects One Last Thing (For Now) is a verbatim piece with the words being written instead of spoken.
The set is simple: black walls down which cascade a montage of white paper. Letters are used not only as set pieces but also as props. One clever scene uses them as paper planes ‘flying’ from the war front to the home. The use of group movement and abstract prop pieces is fundamental to the production and a clever and entertaining device.
The beauty of the set design is enhanced by the play of lights around the white paper. The lights create shadows and shapes that set mood and help to define the many changes of scene. Elliott Squire is set and costume designer and Matthew Cater designed the lighting. Music is a strong element throughout and is credited to Angus McRae with live music played by the cast.
Mark Sutcliffe provides a soundscape that enhances the action well. The play begins in a mournful tone, brightens in the lighter scenes, and heralds disaster when required. All three facets of design combine to provide bleak moments of reality in the ending: The lights dim, the sound of war is loud and shakes the seats and as the cast exit after the final bow the silence segues into peaceful birdsong.
The programme lists 4 story lines but that is by no means a full list. There are 8 cast members playing multiple roles and each performer shows high levels of skill and versatility. Dialect coach Laura Keele has done a splendid job of preparing the cast for the multitude of accents required.
The problem with the extreme number of story lines though is in the structure of the play. Scenes are generally very short and the switch between the story lines is lightning fast. This gives the play a fractured feel with an accompanying sense of disorientation that limits the opportunity to fully identify with the characters.
The play begins with a babble of voices reaching to be heard above the rest, all saying ‘There once was a woman….’ This settles into a tableau of the performers, a signature moment that recurs frequently. The ensemble are such a tight group that they often breathe together as a punctuation mark to change a scene.
Separating the performers out is complicated. Elizabeth Stretton is outstanding for her ability to transform into different characters and moods with simple changes in body and face. The relationship between Stretton and Tom Shah in the story line where the husband is unable to tell his wife the facts of his war is palpable in its truth.
So too is the husband and wife pairing of Josephine Arden who skypes her husband continually whilst he is in Afghanistan but craves a real letter from him. Arden is also strong in her character of the English teacher who’s pupil, Amir (Thomas Wingfield), only grows to understand her stance on the army after his service experiences.
Carolina Herran plays the woman whose husband is kidnapped in Colombia and has to wade through the processes in the UK to free her husband seek refuge for her family. In her attempts to master the English language required, the audience sees the frustration and the desperation in the frequent outbursts into her native language. Helping this woman in the quest is Katerina Ntroudi in one of her characters. Ntroudi also plays an old woman troubled by events in her youth involving a German soldier.
It is the direction of Lilac Yosiphon that pulls all the facets of this diverse production together into a homogenous whole. There is much to be admired in the movement of the artists and the small touches like the collective breath of the ensemble. Yosiphon has engineered moments of satisfying beauty both visual and emotive.