A Final Act of Friendship is a two-hander at the Bridge House Theatrein South London. It addresses themes of race, privilege and sexuality clearly and sensitively via the friendship of two characters: Michael (Gbenga Jempeji) and Robin (Stephen Hayward). The story follows the two through the ordeal of university education and the world of acting. Robin and Michael negotiate the jealousy which that industry causes. Can two people with very different levels of privilege have a healthy friendship?
The play is primarily about race, with Michael described as a ‘black actor in a white industry’. The discussion of race and racism in Hayward’s writing is moving, encouraging the audience to reflect and thoroughly engage in this vital and ongoing conversation. Topics of white allyship (and the complexities that entails) are touched upon, but, disappointingly, not really investigated thoroughly. However, this play still feels important in that it asks the world what can we change, and what we are complicit in. The action is telling instead of showing the story for the majority, but the writing is strong.
The actors put the audience at ease immediately with a calm and clear performance. Hayward’s hilariously uptight Robin and Jempeji’s charismatic and vulnerable Michael have an endearing chemistry together, and an excellent quality of listening to each other. The story is told with conviction, yet both actors maintain humour and a light touch even when delving into serious subjects. Natalya Micic‘s design is minimal but well observed and Stacey O’Shea’s tongue-in-cheek lighting design aids the comedy of the piece.
There are points when lines feel rushed, with the actors not sitting in some very poignant moments long enough. At one point Robin helps Michael with an upcoming audition. Both actors invest in this scene heavily, taking their time, and it creates a beautiful moment. This left me wondering why we couldn’t get more of this?! Saying that, overall, there are high quality performances from both.
Natalya Micic‘s direction is on the whole strong. The first section is expertly directed, with both men’s stories being told on stage but separately from each other. Overlapping dialogue occurs at numerous times, complementing the way the characters’ lives converge and diverge; sometimes on the same path and sometimes ‘worlds apart’. A strong directorial imprint is left but the audience could be brought further into the world of the piece.
The play is compelling but would benefit from more of the story being embodied by the actors, as opposed to spoken. The question ‘could I really make a difference?’ was asked and the show answers with a clear message: stand up, speak up, do your part. I left feeling inspired and hopeful.
Written by: Stephen Hayward
Directed by: Natalya Micic
A Final Act of Friendship plays at Penge’s Bridge House Theatre until 28 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.