Four actors, four roles, one love story. So far, so normal. Except it’s not until the start of every performance that each actor discovers which role they will be playing that night. It’s an interesting gimmick and one that could easily overshadow the play itself, which would be an absolute shame; even without that unusual casting technique it still easily stands up on its own. Yet maybe it is because of that added risk – that added unknown, that Our Last First is elevated into much more than a charming little romance.
So, what about that love story? The play’s first half gently introduces A and B, tonight played by Eoin Quinlan and Beca Barton. We follow them from first date in a coffee shop, to moving in together and all the ups and downs involved. Lucinda Coyle‘s writing has an easygoing feel to it, focused on creating wonderfully rounded characters experiencing relatable everyday life, without need for genders or other descriptive features. It’s full of soft humour that keeps the audience fully in support of this relationship; tea mugs a regular and very enjoyable source of conversation. Things only begin to go awry when Best Friend (Joshua Eldridge-Smith) appears at the close of act one. Suddenly there is tension between the loved-up couple, taking us nicely into the interval and a second half that, unless you have a heart of stone, may require a tissue or two.
It’s interesting how Coyle manages to create conversations that would work equally well spoken by any of the four. There is some clever, and easily overlooked, use of language here that avoids gendering any character, thus allowing the same script to be used whoever plays who.
But what about that casting decision? Well, it’s to everyone’s credit how easily the cast gel for the evening, making it quite difficult to imagine them in any other role. Annie Loftus feels perfect in their role of the rather sardonic Sibling, giving A grief as only siblings can. It’s arguably the most fun of the four roles and it feels a shame that their contribution is so fleeting. Similarly, it’s difficult to imagine Eldridge-Smith as anyone other than the devious and unlikeable Friend. His whole demeanour screams villain. Tonight, with Barton and Quinlan as the central couple, there’s more of a heterosexual-feeling partnership, albeit with our traditional concepts of male/ female roles nicely reversed; Barton here being the dab hand at putting up the flat-packed furniture and Quinlan the more emotional of the couple; but on any other night it could be anything but that. It is obvious, and rather intriguing to imagine, how the play would run very differently with any other combination. Although you would expect it to be just as enjoyable.
The piece doesn’t seem to suffer for having a longer run time than its initial 2021 incarnation. If anything, the end actually feels slightly rushed. The finale is strong and yet feels sudden, with a slight disconnect, as if a scene has been missed out. It’s not a big issue, although a bridging scene into that conclusion might lead us there more smoothly.
But ultimately, perhaps the beauty of Our Last First is the mystery and fascination in seeing how the cast slip into their allotted roles, and how the whole dynamic changes instantly based upon simple luck of the draw. I was (silently) worried that the gimmick with the casting would result in flaws shining through elsewhere. But such worries proved misplaced, as what we still get is a love story for a very modern, gender fluid world, one we should all embrace and support, both in the theatre and in life in general.
Written by: Lucinda Coyle
Directed by: Samuel Xavier
Set and costume design by: Lucy Sneddon
Sound design by: Jack Baxter
Lighting Design by: Adam Jefferys
Produced by: Bullet Point Theatre
Our Last First plays at The Space until 14 June. Further information and bookings can be found here. The show will also be livestreamed on 11 and 12 June, and then available for two further weeks on-demand. Information and bookings for this can be found here.