The Last Company present Last Rehearsal, written by María José Andrade, a play that documents how a company of actors deal with their director’s last minute absence. The play is described as ‘electrifying’ on the website and, although it does raise some interesting points and the poetry is spoken wonderfully, I don’t think the piece quite manages to escape the lethargic feel of an abandoned rehearsal.
Last Rehearsal is inspired by the poem ‘Mudanza’ (‘moving’ in Spanish) by acclaimed Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra. The piece starts with an intimately disarming performance of one of his poems by Jessica Aqualina. As the lights come up behind her, we see two people listening intently and, as Aqualina draws to a close, one stands and questions her choice of hoodie and the appropriateness of the chair she is sat on.
What follows is an hour of umm-ing and ah-ing about whether the play can still be performed after the director has abandoned them at the final hour. There is plenty to dissect within the writing as the characters discuss the efficacy of theatre for its audience, as well as the perils of overthinking a text for actors who become disillusioned with the purpose. Juliana Pflaumer gives a particularly good performance during a monologue that calls for actors and theatre-makers to leave their holy buildings and go and see the world as it is, instead of merely making work about it.
Despite the interesting subject matter the show never seems to kick into gear, staying on the same level throughout as the characters argue about things without ever actually making any decisions. The big problem for the script is that the stakes aren’t quite high enough. We are told early on that the play their director has abandoned is almost complete, and that if they are to cancel it they will have to pay out of their own pockets due to a sinister venue agreement. The argument for not performing seemed to only be that some of the actors are losing sight of the reasons they agreed to do the show in the first place (which are, essentially, to make provocative and moving art). In terms of picking a side on this debate I find myself not particularly minding if they do the show or if they all go home to bed – I don’t believe that either option has much of a consequence for anyone involved.
Also, the characters are not distinctive enough. It often feels as though if we switched some characters’ lines, I would not notice. Who says what seems to make no difference. Finding four unique voices with four clear purposes would have made for a more interesting play. Instead, the characters meander about, pondering, which ultimately causes the piece to lack the biting, urgent energy it needs to come to life.
Last Rehearsal is undeniably thought provoking, and raises questions of identity, territory and ownership in theatre. Although it recognises the restrictions of text based theatre to do more than just speak about what the world is like (as opposed to changing it), I don’t think the piece transcends these same walls and is limited to bringing up varying questions without having the means to explore them fully.
Mariana Aristizabal and Charly Monreal deliver detailed performances, making up a strong cast of four alongside Pflaumer and Aqualina. Despite the piece struggling to fixate me entirely, Last Rehearsal certainly gives you plenty to think about.
The Last Rehearsal played at The Warren: The Blockhouse as part of Brighton Fringe until 25 May. For more information visit the Brighton Fringe website.