Edinburgh Fringe 2022
The civilised etiquette of the returns queue for a sold out show quickly breaks down in an absurdist and farcical sparky production from Druid Theatre that is highly entertaining and ultimately thought provoking
The last night of that sell-out show, the returns queue – we’ve all been there. Thoreau’s quote that most men live lives of quiet desperation has rarely seemed so apposite. Sara Joyce’s slick and polished production of Sonya Kelly’s sparkling new play, The Last Return, takes this slight premise to a new level with five characters all with their own urgent – to them – reason for wanting to see the sold out show..
The cast play a blinder. There’s,the office worker with sharp elbows (Fiona Bell); the splendidly familiar jobsworth ticket person (Anna Healey); the David Lodge style professor (Bosco Hogan); an airman (Fionn Ó Loingsigh) who swings onto stage; and a quietly mysterious woman in pink (Naima Swaleh). Individually each performance is beautifully pitched, but as an ensemble comes together as a masterclass in characterisation and comedic timing.
Initially a stylised comedy with a seemingly slight subject that rises in pitch to become increasingly farcical and absurdist as the civilised veneer crumbles, The Last Return, widens out to reveal more serious underlying themes. As well as the copious laughs there are moments of bad taste and outrage that will leave you squirming and uncomfortable, shocked out of the initial comfort zone the play has initially created.
Francis O’Connor’s set with its contained space and ticket desk in the background is reminiscent of the set of Donmar Warehouse’s 2019 production of David Greig’s Europe, another play about waiting while conflict and disruption are just off stage, both plays a hat tip to Waiting for Godot. Both O’Connor’s set and costume design add to the stylised realism of the piece contributing to its slick veneer.
This is an extremely polished production with a great all round ensemble of creatives contributing to the overall effect. Jessica and Megan Kennedy’s movement direction, Michael John McCarthy’s sound design, Amy Mae’s lighting all combine to create a sparkling production.
On first view, the ending jarred and felt out of kilter with the show, too realist and too shocking against the stylised comedy but it has lingered in my mind. Is this not the world we live in: the daily struggle to cling to our small personal concerns, ignoring the larger outrages that are happening all around us in plain sight but are too terrible to take in.