Toronto – eclectic city: starting point for visiting the Niagara Falls (Canadian side), home of the 1800ft high CN Tower with its superbly panoramic revolving restaurant, and featuring iconic Kensington Market a diverse, multi-cultural hot-bed of the arts out of which emerged Jordan Tannahill – “the hottest name in Canadian Theatre”.
Tannahill is a Snapchat generation playwright whose razor-sharp dialogue and social media nous is, I believe, going to take the London theatre scene by storm.
His play Late Company is about to have its UK premiere at the Finborough – the wonderful Finborough – as part of the theatre’s celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday. The show is a hard-hitting, poignant exploration of what happens when a teenager commits suicide due to relentless cyberbullying – the profound effect on his family and the family of one of the main perpetrators of that bullying. A year after the death the two sets of parents, with Curtis the bully, meet for a dinner party to attempt to seek a rapprochement, some understanding and, above all, closure. When Curtis and his parents sit down to the meal and realise there are place settings for six – i.e a seat at the table for the deceased Joel – then the tone is set for the awkward, uncompromising levels of hypocrisy that lay bare the pain, the scars and the unattended open wounds of the intolerable and overpowering situation. It’s very much a play for now, the social media world that many parents don’t fully understand, examining a form of twenty-first century peer pressure that it’s difficult to come to terms with.
It’s a complex subject and Tannahill deals with it deftly and with discernment. Despite the seriousness of the subject, the playwright finds plenty of opportunity to root out the comic potential of this kind of proxy war between two middle-class suburban families and at times it is very funny. It’s almost as if Tannahill has been there.
The play is directed by Michael Yale – recently noted for The Disappeared at Theatre 503 – and Late Company is, unusually, the fourth Canadian play that he has premiered in Europe. Yale has put together a strong cast for the show, including David Leopold as Curtis, a difficult role playing the seventeen-year-old remorseful cyber bully who acts as buffer and catalyst between the two sets of troubled and bemused parents. Leopold has recently been seen in Muted at the Bunker and appeared in the West Yorkshire Playhouse productions of Uncle Vanya and The Crucible.
Curtis’s vaguely misogynistic, slightly homophobic, marginally ignorant father, Bill, is nicely underplayed by Alex Lowe – seen recently on TV in Unforgotten and known to the world as Barry from Watford (Steve Wright BBC Radio 2).
Bill’s wife Tamara, Lisa Stevenson, has a pleasant and welcoming exterior but underneath is fiercely defensive of her son and her family values. Stevenson is usually on our TV screens in one show or another and was in the National Theatre’s production of Warhorse.
Lucy Robinson and Todd Boyce as bereaved parents, Debora and Michael, are adept at showing that the distance between them isn’t just down to the empty space left by Joel’s dinner place-setting. There’s a deep rancour that
affects them and which is brought into much sharper focus by the presence of the Dermot family. It’s a high-class cast that brings a knowing intensity to Tannahill’s words.
The company responsible for the introduction of this new work to the UK theatre scene is Stage Traffic Productions. Founded by Producer Eilene Davidson, who teamed up with director Yale to create the company, Stage Traffic is based in London but also works out of New York, seeking out inspiring plays with strong contemporary storylines that will resonate with modern audiences. Late Company ticks all those boxes. After it’s Fringe debut, Davidson would like to see the show move on to an off-West End venue, possibly Trafalgar Studios. Davidson feels that Canadian plays sit well with UK audiences – a better fit, perhaps, than many American plays. Stage Traffic was responsible for the musical This Little Life of Mine at the Park Theatre last year.
Late Company is a very exciting project by this young aspiring company with dynamic writing from a playwright who has been described as “the future of Canadian theatre” (Now Magazine). It will undoubtedly enhance the London Theatre scene and will hopefully pave the way for future great shows from Stage Traffic.
By Peter Yates
Late Company Rehearsal Press Launch
Tuesday 11 April 2017
Arrivals from 1:15pm – for a 1.30pm start
The Club at The Ivy, 9 West Street, London, WC2H 9NE