Late Company at Trafalgar StudiosCultureTheatre
Can facing your son’s tormentor help alleviate the pain of his death? Does “closure” after such a trauma even exist? Though the situation at the heart of the narrative – the parents of a gay teen invite over the family of the boy who pushed their son to suicide – perhaps stretches credibility, the devastating emotional truths of Jordan Tannahill’s Late Company certainly do not.
At just 75 minutes the writing is both crisp and meaty. The early scenes simmer, simmer, simmer with forced chitchat before erupting in a cascade of accusations. Late Company’s only real weakness is that the characters are a tad too archetypal. A distant, conservative father, a resentful suburbanite mother; men who believe in “old school” parenting and women eager to fill the silences left by their husbands and sons – the often-ugly opinions espoused by each too readily fit into the audience’s assumptions of who they are. This isn’t to knock the performances – the whole ensemble is superb. It’s just there’s a real lack of surprise in the characterisation.
That is, perhaps, bar Curtis, played with great subtly by David Leopold. Tannahill refuses to define the teen – who subjected someone to endless torment for nothing more than being “weird” – by his worst acts. There are signs of haunting remorse in his sunken face, far more present there than in a written apology that inevitably fails to capture the depths of what he has done.
Tannahill examines the suicide in a way that is both procedural and painfully, but necessarily, messy, delicately cataloguing the myriad possible reasons why someone – specifically a young gay man – might end their life. Casual homophobia litters the conversation, fathers oblivious to how this can transform into direct abuse by their sons. Boys will be boys, it’s just “locker talk”, kids need to toughen-up – all these destructive clichés are trotted out by people who are unwilling to accept that their actions and opinions have consequences. Parental ignorance (and neglect) is here tied to the autonomy provided by the internet, with teens able to live parallel lives online.
Yet the playwright is careful to show that things like Facebook and YouTube aren’t just cesspits of (relatively) unmonitored abuse, but spaces that allow freedom for those potentially denied personal expression at home or at school. It is here that the play finds the first potential steps towards some kind of bruised acceptance, a parent’s joy at a video (and son) they didn’t know existed.
Photo: Alastair Muir
Late Company is at Trafalgar Studios from 21st August until 16th September 2017. Book your tickets here,