Experimental – engaging – and at its heart, touching. Our Last First, which had a four night run at the Union Theatre last week, is a debut play by Hysteria writer Lucinda Coyle that explores the relationship crossroads of A and B with interjections from their Friend and Sibling. The twist? The four-person cast changes roles each night, and the characters are designed to be played by anyone, of any gender. Every night is both the first and last performance.
What begins is a semi-conventional relationship told beautifully and realistically, exploring the ups and downs of a new relationship, from new jobs to parents to where you keep the teabags. But the real magic of Our Last First is in its changing cast and gender-neutral casting. To see one night is to only see a snapshot of the entire play, and watching how different actors interpret the same roles is electric. It is a travesty that its run only lasted four nights, without a thorough exploration of all different combinations.
The acting, to put it simply, was superb. The razor-sharp writing was only let down by some of the actors using their scripts as a kind of crutch. It is however understandable once you realise that the cast had to learn all four roles in only two short weeks of rehearsals. Also, as it fit into the overarching theme of writing within the play, it wasn’t necessarily jarring to watch. In the pre-show, B hands the actors scripts (placed tongue-in-cheek on the back of Ikea manuals) for the various roles, and the audience are invited into the writing process. We are given the sense that this is only one version of the story. With more nuance and refining, this play will be a masterpiece that can be developed in new and exciting ways.
The play explores a variety of relationships, aided by its changing A and B, as well as two non-binary cast members, Jonathan Case and Aitch Wylie. It is exciting in its use of blind-gender casting and the inclusion it offers that is still so unexamined in the realm of theatre. To see four actors, none of whom are cishet, acting alongside each other in a play that not only utilises but plays upon language and they/them pronouns, shows a shift in theatre that will hopefully continue far into the West End and the future.
The first night, in which Louis Raghunathan was A and Jonathan played B, was soft – loving – but angry. To see Tazmyn-May Gebbett and Aitch reprise the roles the next night was to see an entirely different couple – passionate, forceful, but in a way, quieter. A notable change was in a simple line delivered by B, in which Louis started, “They don’t like me because-” and left the sentence open. In Aitch’s rendition, they continued, “-because I’m trans.” Each actor brought their own identity, spark, and influence to the characters, and to see consecutive nights is to see a whole new play and relationship. The fourth and last night of the run was especially stunning – to see Jon and Aitch, two non-binary actors, alongside each other in a lovingly complicated relationship that acknowledged and was influenced by their gender identity without being its sole focus was something truly special.
At its centre, Our Last First is about love, in all its forms. While Friend and Sibling may seem like supporting roles, they allow us to see more of A and B and the different embodiments love can take. All characters lean on each other at different points in the show, and romantic love does not out – it is only one possible chapter in a colourful array of lives. The play is effervescent and relatable without being predictable. The audience laughed – cried – loved – but the best moments were the ones where you could hear a pin (or a screw) drop. To see a West End with more plays like Our Last First is to see a better, more diverse, and more memorable West End.
Mark my words – this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this fledgling first-class play, and I have high hopes for an exciting future for all the cast and crew. Follow them on Twitter (@OurLastFirst) and Instagram (@ourlastfirst_theplay) for news and updates and, as always, support new, inclusive, live theatre.
Image by Megan Henson.