There’s an interesting moment in the post-show Q&A when the audience are asked who came from somewhere other than London, with about half of us raising a hand. Because Lately is a show that is instantly relatable for anyone brought up in the little towns and villages scattered throughout the country. It is a play about wanting to escape from an existence that you feel holds no hope or future; from a hometown where “even Wetherspoons gave up on us”.
That’s what it is like for Alf and Cal (Gabrielle Nellis-Pain and Fred Wardale), two teens living in “Shithole-On-Sea”, both desperate to flee the lives they have been dealt. But their methods of escape ultimately prove very different. From the outset you know how this is going to end: the opening scene lays it out as clearly as Cal lays out his few possessions on the shoreline. Even knowing that this is not going to result in smiles all around, the journey that takes us there is so worthwhile.
We first meet Alf and Cal standing apart on either side of the stage, telling their respective stories in isolation. Slowly their tales overlap, and as they do we are taken back to those moments together that shape their future. The transitions between individual monologues and two-handed interactions are smoothly handled under David Brady’s gentle direction. You hardly register they have even happened, with at times just a simple spotlight drawing us back to an individual moment.
It’s painfully obvious how different Alf and Cal are. Alf is extroverted, loud, dreaming of just leaving her boring existence behind and jumping on a plane to anywhere but here. Cal, whilst equally frustrated with his life, is the polar opposite, introverted, accepting, seeing no point in leaving as there is nowhere else to go. And perhaps the most telling difference is that Alf takes action against her perceived injustices – particularly against Deb, the woman her father left her and her mum for, whilst Cal just accepts his life for what it is, taking the beatings handed out by his alcoholic father with a simple shrug of his shoulders.
Lately is the most intimate of plays – the stage utterly bare, leaving the pair exposed completely, as we watch their lives unravel. Yet even without any set, you are still transported into their stories, with the sound and video projection adding breadth to their intimacy. The funfair where Alf first talks about leaving, for example, is brought to life with the sounds of laughter and screams as we watch the fairground attraction flash back and forth behind them.
Both Nellis-Pain and Wardale make you care passionately for their characters. Wardale maybe has the harder role in portraying a young man struggling with unaddressed depression and the fear that he will grow up just like his abusive father, slowly sinking deeper into his hoodie. But it’s Nellis-Pain’s Alf that stands out, shining the brightest, ensuring that the pair never drown in Cal’s sorrow. For various (Covid-related) reasons the play has two sets of actors. Matt Wake and Lauren Ferdinand undertake the roles on alternate nights, and it would be interesting to see how the different pair bring their own style to the characters.
A beautiful and personal drama, Lately’s themes of wanting to escape both physically and mentally from your life are relatable on so many levels, whether you come from London originally or not: testament to James Lewis’ writing. As it closes, with the sound of the sea washing over the shore, it’s hard not to feel heartbroken at how it had to end, even though we were made fully aware from the very beginning of the inevitability of it all.
Written by: James Lewis
Directed by: David Brady
Produced by: Proforca Theatre
Lately plays at Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 18 September. Further information and bookings via the below link.
You can also hear our interview with David Brady, talking about this play, as well as Proforca’s involvement with Lion and Unicorn Theatre here.