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One Last Thing (For Now)
The Old Red Lion Theatre
21st March 2017

★★★★☆

Josephine Arden

Photography © Toby

Do you even know how much a stamp costs these days? To be perfectly honest, I can't remember the last time I sat down to write a letter by hand of any description, let alone a meaningful one in which I laid open my innermost feelings. Technology moves on, we move on and our thoughts are captured in 140 characters or fewer. Possibly with an emoji thrown in for good measure. Because, that's practically poetry by modern standards, right? One Last Thing (For Now) explores the significance of exchanging handwritten letters during wartime in different cultures, languages and time periods. Part written by director Lilac Yosiphon and also part devised by the company, it's a show inspired by real life, but not beholden to it.

Although they say everyone has a story in them, Yosiphon must have about a million. As the driving force behind this piece, her recognisable style and ambition are evident throughout. The contrast of the past and present day work well, as does the fairytale feel evoked by Angus McRae's playful score. The most successful arc is undoubtedly between military girlfriend Rosie (Josephine Arden), who has grown up in the background of her father's sacrifice and just like her mother, has found herself in a relationship with a soldier (Cole Michaels). Arden's portrayal really packs a punch; her character is all kinds of adorable and excitable, making the audience instantly emotionally invest in her. Michaels' character, Rob, is far more restrained, making his eventual outburst all the more powerful.

Amongst other roles, Arden also plays an Israeli teacher, whose students graduate and go off to fight, their actions irrevocably leaving an impact on her. This storyline is frequently overly political, with the discussions on military service and pacifism distracting from Arden's beautiful scenes with her pupil Amir (Thomas Wingfield) and his mother (Carolina Herran). Herran carries her character with such dignity that it's difficult to tell exactly what is beneath the surface, but we suspect a mix of fury, grief and stoicism. Nonetheless, what is crystal clear is that Arden nails every one of her performances, demonstrating a rare versatility.

The ensemble of One Last Thing (For Now)

Photography © Toby

As strong as some of these subplots are, there's unfortunately no getting away from the inherent issue that it feels like they are less than the sum of their parts. The first half is especially disjointed and there's too much going on. The wife desperate to send her husband her touch (Elizabeth Stretton) adds comedy which is in places intended, such as with the arrival of the postman (Tom Shah) and in others, entirely accidental (such as the conclusion). The ending is unnecessary when there are so many other, better stories to be shared and made the main focus. Whilst Yosiphon's fondness for repetition initially is unpromising, she more than justifies this in her exploration of the French Resistance fighter (Katerina Ntroudi) and her German lover (Michaels) and grown-up son (Sam Elwin). She also commands the ensemble well, using their movement to add energy and interest to the production, timing their actions with extraordinary skill. For all its flaws (including the odd ropey accent) this is a much better piece than There's No Place Like or Jericho's Rose and the acting goes a long way to elevate the script.

The use of so many different languages helps reaffirm the universality of seeking validation and comfort through letters during challenging situations. As a linguist, I find this utterly gorgeous. However, I was also acutely aware throughout that some lengthy passages were left untranslated. Although their precise meaning didn't add a great deal to the narrative, I did fear that not knowing that fact might be off-putting for some audience members, wondering what they might be missing out on. Given the international bent to Althea Theatre and likelihood of blending together even more languages in future work, it's a point for Yosiphon et al to take away and reflect on.

As for the set, pages and pages seemingly grow out of the floor and into abstract almost tree-like structures, with Elliott Squire's set design very simple yet effective. The subtle lighting by Matthew Cater further complements Squire's design. There's not a lot to it, but Yosiphon always keeps the ensemble on-stage and essentially uses spare cast members to enhance the background, thus removing the need for an elaborate design or any fancy props. Her ensemble become the set.

There are worse traits than ambition. However, it's clear that Yosiphon could create something with far more impact if she were to focus on a few of her many good ideas, as opposed to all of them all of the time. With an obvious progression in her work, it's exciting to consider what she will create next if she forces herself to employ such limits. One Last Thing (For Now) explores some poignant, tender and beautiful stories of love. Definitely worth catching one of the last performances as it heads towards the end of its run.

One Last Thing (For Now) opened on 7th March and runs until 25th March 2017 at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)



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