I almost feel like I should declare an interest at the start. As soon as I saw the description of this play, I knew it was entirely my thing. A translated play about boundaries in reality and connections made through these boundaries – oh yes please, I am very interested!
For the most part, This Last Piece of Sky does not disappoint. We begin with a striking visual of bedsheets so large as to cover the entire stage, and Louis (Tom Mackean) excitedly wakes his brother to tell him that he has discovered ‘the equation of the world’. Has he? Or is he mentally unwell? Meanwhile, elsewhere Sarah (Yasmine Haller) gathers with her family to watch TV but they inadvertently watch a military coup unfold, which will fundamentally change their lives. These two stories begin to blend. As the boundaries lessen and as the ‘slight shimmer of reality’ warps around them, Louis and Sarah sometimes become aware of each other moving on and off stage.
The script by Kevin Keiss, translated from the original French by Charis Ainslie, is full of lovely lyrical phrases, and overall, the cast is good. Mackean is particularly impressive and provides a memorable performance, between genius and mania. Auguste Voulton is very accomplished as Louis’ brother, one of his dual roles, and the one that gave him more to do; he conveyed his worry and fears about Louis very well.
Sibylla Archdale Kalid’s considered direction is impressive throughout. The play tells us that time moves in circles, and the staging smartly reinforces this. As characters move on and off stage, they use two doors on each side of the stage, so the cast move in half-circles. Excellent work, and an inspired use of the venue’s physical layout.
Early references to time perhaps hint that both locations may not be occurring at the same moment, and this seems borne out by what appear to be efforts to not date the piece (notably the old-style TV and record collection). However, the play later relies on a search using a mobile phone. This pulled me out a little from the otherwise well-crafted atmosphere.
It surprised me to find out that Sarah was meant to be twelve, it would have helped to have had this made clear earlier. While all of Louis’ actions are protective of her, this works a little better knowing her age. It doesn’t fundamentally alter the play but I do think it has enough of an effect that this change would be helpful.
One specific problem that I have to raise is the sound system. From the start, there was a loud and very noticeable buzzing from the speakers. It was so loud that I wondered if it was deliberate; if it was meant to disconcert the audience; if it was to draw a parallel with the disruption within the play? As the evening went on, it became clear that it was merely interference from the lights: the buzz disappeared when some stage lights were off. This absolutely needs some looking at. It was a huge distraction throughout and I do have to say I’m disappointed it hadn’t been picked up on, as it was obvious before the play even began.
These points aside, This Last Piece of Sky is a very ambitious play with strong direction, a script that asks questions and a cast that brings it all together nicely. I know from our recent interview with Ainslie and Kalid that this piece is the first part of a trilogy. I very much hope they will be able to move it forward.
Written by: Kevin Keiss
Translated by: Charis Ainslie
Directed by: Sibylla Archdale Kalid
Sound Design by: Raffaela Pancucci
Lighting Design by: Catja Hamilton
This Last Piece of Sky plays at The Space until 21 May. It will then be available for two further weeks via their on-demand service. Further information can be found here.