On the surface, Lucinda Coyle’s play Our Last First is a relatively conventional love story between two characters, charting all their relationship milestones – some momentous, others less so, but all equally important in the journey they take together. What makes this play different, however, is the fact that none of the characters have names, ages, physical descriptions or, most significantly, pronouns. At the start of each performance in the four-night run, scripts are distributed to the diverse cast of four, assigning each of them the role of either A, B, Sibling or Friend.
This bold decision on the writer’s part not only makes the play intriguing to watch – in a longer run, I’d certainly go back and watch it again to try and catch a different combination of actors – but also makes a key and crucial point: love is love, whoever that love is shared by. Stripping away the characters’ gender means that the focus of the story is entirely on the blossoming relationship between A and B (at the performance I attended played by Tazmyn-May Gebbett and Aitch Wylie) as they begin to build a life together, with all the ups and downs that entails. And while the anonymising of all the characters, including those we never meet like parents and flatmates, occasionally jars a bit, it certainly doesn’t detract from the main narrative.
That narrative is instantly compelling. Coyle begins at the end, before looping back to the start of the story and A and B’s nervous first date. The characters feel very believable – neither of them is perfect and both make mistakes, which helps the audience become invested in their rollercoaster romance. Meanwhile the two side characters, Sibling and Friend (in this case Jonathan Case and Louis Raghunathan), make brief but significant appearances, as a reminder that no relationship exists in a vacuum; outside forces also have a part to play in the direction they can take.
The feeling of a life constantly evolving is reinforced by Beth Colley’s adaptable set, consisting of boxes that are rearranged by the cast as the action moves between different locations. Director Stanley Walton makes good use of the space, although there are a couple of scenes that take place on the floor, meaning audience members sitting a few rows back may struggle to see what’s going on.
I hope that Our Last First will return for a longer run in the future; it’s an original and refreshing idea and one that it would be great to explore further.
Our Last First has its final performance this evening (19th November) at the Union Theatre.