The Last Session
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Gideon is in the studio for the last time, recording an album for his long-term partner. Tomorrow he'll be dead, his suicide planned as a desperate attempt to wrestle back control from Aids, which has reduced his life to a downward spiral of ineffective, painful drug therapies and the indignity of universal sympathy.
As he sits down at the piano to record his last tape, his attempt at Krapp-ing is crapped on by the entrance of Buddy, a plucky, cow-licked Baptist boy inspired by Gideon's music, but revolted by his homosexuality.
HIV-positive US songwriter Steve Schalchlin's musical is a beautiful cry of pain with a surface smoothness that conceals an honest and heartfelt engagement with the messy realities of intolerance, artistry and terminal illness. Its familiar themes and cast of characters suggest cliché, but this is short-circuited at every turn by Schalchlin's bold refusal to accept easy answers and convenient oppositions.
Darren Day excels as Gideon. The power of his voice was never in question, but he ably proves his acting chops in a challenging and multi-layered role. AJ Dean is equally superb as Buddy, and Ron Emslie provides crotchety comic relief as long-suffering studio owner Jim.
But the real star here is Schalchlin. Opening ballad 'Save Me a Seat' could reduce the Westboro Baptist Church to tears, and 'Friendly Fire', which describes Gideon's painful medical treatments as a self-defeating military conflict with no hope of victory, is fiercely intelligent. This is a terrific, little-known musical, and one that deserves considerable success in its London debut.