Review: Lately at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Proforça Theatre’s Lately finally opened this week at the Lion and Unicorn over a year later than planned (because Covid), and now with two casts instead of one (because, well, Covid). It’s the story of best friends Callum and Alison – better known as Cal and Alf – and movingly explores their opposing mindsets as they approach adulthood: Alf can’t bear the thought of staying in their uninspiring home town, while Cal literally can’t imagine being anywhere else. Having been inseparable for years, how will they reconcile such different visions for their future, and can their friendship survive it?

Photo credit: Proforça Theatre Company

While avoiding plot spoilers, it seems reasonable – necessary, even – to mention that the play deals very sensitively with issues around mental health, but to say that Lately is only a story about depression would be to do it a massive disservice. Ultimately it’s about the relationship between the two characters; a relationship that’s difficult to define and often far from perfect, but always real and meaningful. This comes across in the performances of Fred Wardale and Gabrielle Nellis-Pain (the cast at the performance I saw), who interact in exactly the relaxed, effortless way you’d expect from two best friends who are completely comfortable in each other’s company. Both Cal and Alf have their own private demons to fight, but when they’re together they feel like an unbeatable team. And although the audience knows – or at least suspects – how their story will end, those moments where it’s just the two of them against the world are incredibly powerful to watch, just as the feeling of isolation when they’re apart is almost overwhelming.

Director David Brady keeps the set minimal, opting to add scale and depth to the production through the use of video projections, sound and lighting. This, together with James Lewis’ evocative script, allows the audience to feel totally immersed and to clearly visualise the nondescript “Shithole-on-Sea” described by the characters, while at the same time leaving enough unsaid that each of us can imagine the same events unfolding in our own home towns, to people we know, or even recognise experiences we’ve been through ourselves. The characters and their situation are infinitely relatable, and though the decision to have two casts may originally have been a logistical one, it would be fascinating to see how the other two actors – Matt Wake and Lauren Ferdinand, who perform on alternate days – approach bringing these characters and their story to life.

Photo credit: Proforça Theatre Company

At just an hour long, Lately is short but sweet, with writing, direction and performances of the highest quality. Written as it was before Covid hit, the play doesn’t directly address the pandemic, but the emotions it portrays – loneliness, loss and a longing for escape – are feelings audiences will relate to perhaps even more powerfully given the extraordinary events of the past eighteen months.

Lately is at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 18th September.

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