Lately, Old Joint Stock Theatre – Review

British seaside towns could arguably be the perfect metaphor for the human condition. Perhaps it’s because by their nature, seaside towns are in peak season for only a few months; the rest of the time is spent in a state of limbo – waiting for warmer, better days ahead. Or perhaps it’s because coastal towns are analogous to the the mayfly – existing for only one short spell of ‘magic’ – possessing a tragic/romantic quality. With this in mind, we look at Proforça Theatre’s play…

Written by James Lewis and directed by David Brady, Lately focuses on the relationship of Callum / ‘Cal’ (Fred Wardale) and Alison / Alf’ (Lauren Ferdinand) who live in an unnamed coastal town. Polar opposites in terms of personality, ‘on paper’ they would never end up as ‘friends’ or even within the same social circle. However, they have more in common than meets the eye…

The departure of Cal’s mother and Alf’s father in the past casts a long shadow in their respective lives, from which they have never fully recovered. And while Cal gives off a vibe of being disconnected from the things people take for granted, Alf observes there is much going on beneath the surface (and perhaps he’s had more ‘life experience’ than anybody should have to bear)…

While themes of alienation are often synonymous with teenagers and young people, the layered circumstances of the characters – built up by what’s said and non-verbal communication – has an air of authenticty and not used a generic affectation or trope.

One could argue that Cal and Alf are classic Jungian archetypes, with their respective amina and aminus energy reflecting their passive and assertive demeanours. Be that as it may, the ‘fortitude’ that Cal exhibits by staying with his abusive father is not something everyone could do. Of course, it also be argued that Cal stays with his father because his mother abandoned him when she left her husband – to stay with the parent who ‘wants’ him there, even if he is badly treated. Certainly Philip Larkin’s poem about parents comes to mind…

Yet despite his circumstances at home, Cal finds much to cherish in the decayed beauty of the town and his friendship with Alf is an emotional touchstone, a reason to ‘hang on’. For Alf, Cal also makes her time in the town bearable, but while she doesn’t feel completely ‘alone’, his presence doesn’t deter her from wanting to leave for good… While it isn’t talked about ‘directly’, what permeates the whole play is the mental health of the couple – what about their respective lives they can or can’t talk about, what stops (or not) each other from despairing and ultimately, how each would respectively ‘cope’ without the other…

One can tell from watching Wardale and Ferdinand that this is a play they relish performing in, with a range of emotions to tap and delve into. It’s something the audience shares, as we empathise with circumstances the characters want to change (but can’t), as well as dealing with a world of familial problems that no one else is privy to. The play has more than earned its ‘Offie’ nomination.

© Michael Davis 2023

Lately ran at the Old Joint Stock Theatre on 16 March.

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