'Late Company' transfers to Trafalgar Studios. This review is from its original run at the Finborough Theatre in May
The devastating effect of cyber-bullying is one of the hot topics of our digital age. Up-and-coming Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill confronts this head-on in the harrowingly powerful ‘Late Company’, which makes its UK debut at the tiny, influential Finborough.
We meet Deborah and Michael anxiously awaiting guests for a dinner that Deborah, particularly, hopes will offer some kind of closure. They’ve invited Bill and Tamara over, along with their son, Curtis – one of a group of teenagers whose social media taunts have been held responsible for the suicide of Deborah and Michael’s son.
Tannahill touches on the cruel immortality offered by YouTube and Facebook, when Deborah and Michael, horrified, learn that videos posted by their son – which, for his bullying classmates, made him a target – are still online. But what ‘Late Company’ really illuminates is the endless, awful pain of loss.
The script deftly sketches the cracks between conservative politician Michael, and Deborah, an artist and sculptor, and their barely concealed contempt for ‘hockey parents’ Tamara and Bill. The play throbs with class tension before this clash of values explodes into anger, defensiveness and recrimination.
At just over an hour, ‘Late Company’ covers more ground than many plays twice as long. As the five characters lash out and gouge chunks out of each other’s lives, Tannahill explores everything from attitudes towards mental health to the pitilessness of being gay or different at school.
Tannahill doesn’t pull his punches and neither do his characters, as a supposedly cathartic exchange of letters between Deborah and Curtis collapses into a raw pain that’s almost impossible to watch. As Deborah, Lucy Robinson howls in anguish, and David Leopold convincingly captures Curtis’s painfully teenage confusion, guilt and helplessness.
Director Michael Yale’s well-acted production cranks up the tension, while delving into welcome pockets of black humour. That’s why it’s frustrating that poor staging makes the very final moment difficult to see, depending on your seat. But this doesn’t blunt the edges of this superb play, which deals compassionately yet unflinchingly with grief’s desperate search for an answer to the question: Why?