Review: The Last Words
Gwenllian Page-Gibby reviews Theatre with Teeth’s latest production, The Last Words.
A gripping whodunnit with a twist: the murder victim regained consciousness without her memories. The Last Words is a clever and complex new play by Theatre with Teeth recently performed at Thornlea Studios before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe this August.
A story by Exeter student Charlotte Smith, the title has a multi-dimensional meaning as the protagonist only remembers the last words of each person she encounters and must work to re-establish relationships with family, friends and romantic interests. A voiceover accompanies her first re-encounter with each person, the company fully engaging with the viewers’ visual and auditory senses. The voiceovers’ overlap at the beginning also establishes the protagonist’s confusion as she grapples with being talked over and ignored. Tragically, she is given a pre-existing identity rather than being allowed to establish her own.
The chemistry between leads Rebecca (Emily Wallace) and Luke (Jack Redmayne) sizzles in front of the live audience as they combine innocence with flirtation, acting with emotional maturity and realism to portray their confusion, love and thirst for answers. Like Rebecca, audience members encounter every new person alongside the protagonist, wondering who may be hiding their intentions. Redmayne’s acting is particularly impressive, as he portrays an explosive character that can emerge at any moment. In addition, Rebecca’s heartfelt anxiety and pain truly strikes a chord with all those who watch the play. Her monologues in particular reflect her disorientation and the fact that she can trust no one but herself, though these are not always beneficial to the plot. A single monologue, I think, would have a stronger emotional impact.
The chemistry between leads Rebecca (Emily Wallace) and Luke (Jack Redmayne) sizzles in front of the live audience as they combine innocence with flirtation
While the story is at heart a murder mystery, the play portrays the plight of those who suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder through Ellie Schaiper’s roles as Fay and Alice. Written with the aid of a system and disability advisor, the story arch does not demonise disability but rather provides a much-needed platform that highlights the alienation experienced by those living with a similar diagnosis. Schaiper skillfully conveys this struggle as she seamlessly switches between both identities. David (played by Oscar Chandler), the father figure, offers some comic relief to lighten the tone. While he delivers some of the wittiest and funniest lines of the play, his performance is still natural and paternal, incorporating a wide array of deeper feelings as the performance progresses, while still remaining lighthearted and likeable.
[Fay and Alice’s story arch] is a much-needed platform that conveys the alienation experienced by those living with a similar diagnosis
Kyle (Kieran Stephenson) is a cheeky-chappy saturated with mistrust, making him a character the audience wants to like but they are constantly reminded of his vicious last words. The character performs one of the most poetic and romantic monologues of the play, which the actor delivers wonderfully. One could argue, though, that it is perhaps more similar to the musings of an enamoured Oxford drop-out and avid reader than a policeman who confesses that he isn’t good with his words. Lucy Way’s portrayal of Olivia bounces off this character well as she is torn between love and anguish for a sister who no longer recognises her and a man who won’t face the consequences of his actions.
The audience is within touching distance of the actors, as Theatre with Teeth uses effective and clever staging throughout. Police tape delineates the stage, implying that Rebecca will forever be tied to the crime scene and will struggle to traverse the lines of what is real and the foundation of the evidence she gathers. Photographs linked by red wool adorn the mirrors along the back of the stage, tying the crime scene together. This not only reflects Rebecca’s fractured personality, relationships and memory, but also represents Rebecca’s need to re-establish who she is and and come to terms with this new identity.
A triumph of University grown talent, Theatre with Teeth’s play The Last Words is a blend of polished, evocative acting with a gripping and original concept. Performing next at the Edinburgh Fringe, I urge you to watch Rebecca’s trials and tribulations and marvel at a flourishing new generation of actors and writers.