Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Last Time - Acoustic Theatre

Review by John Lombard

The show kicks off with uni age sexual athlete Caroline (Kat Bramston) hunting the stage for her clothes and whatever is left of her dignity after her latest drunken one night stand, a routine that has become so stifling she vows that this will be "The Last Time".

Caroline isn't the only person tired of endless hook-ups - her intense lesbian friend Ellie (Frances McNair) is hungry for a relationship, and engaged in an equally desperate and charming pursuit of musician Valerie (Katherine Berry). Meanwhile Caroline's schoomzy friend Christopher (Hayden Crosweller) has always held a torch for her and takes Caroline's change in outlook as his chance to pounce on her.

The characters are very well observed, and writer/composer Lucy Matthews has a musician's ear for authentic dialogue. Some of the best moments of the night were the witty barbs the characters would frequently deploy to laughter and sometimes also applause from the audience. I recognised the characters from my own life, and the depiction of hook-up life in Canberra also felt very true - the visit to Mooseheads was spot on.

While the characters are true to life, they are almost unavoidably also extremely shallow. At one point the band leading "music man" (Samuel Gordon Bruce) directly challenged Caroline's self-pity, asking why we should care about her relationship woes. That was a bold move, because my instant response was: "I don't." Fortunately there is a self-awareness in the script that the stakes here are low, and the dreaded label "first world problems" is even used at one point.

Caroline and her friends have the sort of problems that age will automatically solve. One day, when asked to choose between sex and sleep, sleep will seem more inviting. There are moments where it seems as though the characters will raise the stakes and this will become a tragedy, but after an excellent set-up the story struggles to find any kind of resolution.

The actors however are uniformly excellent in the piece, giving a suite of mature and polished performances. Kat Bramston's Caroline is giddy, changeable and gleeful, contrasting with Frances McNair's sturdier but painfully hungry Ellie. Hayden Crosweller as Christopher is handsome but unlikeable, an entitled creep who comes close to being the villain. Katherine Berry is the trendy love object glimpsed from afar, but when she has private moments she also shows us the real person who has been roped into Ellie's fantasies.

This is a musical, but one strongly influenced by burlesque - one of the numbers is even a variation on the iconic chair dance. Clothes are donned, but they rarely stay on for long in Miriam Slater's sexually charged choreography. Particularly in the first act, it does feel like a burlesque night, with the unusually attractive cast celebrating their bodies in a series of numbers on the joy of sex. Lucy Matthews' original music is also strong, with vivid tunes giving each song its own identity.

The Last Time is a well-toned lover who sets the mood perfectly and builds up your anticipation before ducking out just when things are getting good. The cast, choreography and music are all compelling, but the package is let down by a weak story that ambles to an unsatisfying finish. But it's still a great (and very sexy) ride, and an enviable debut production for Acoustic Theatre.