By guest critic Nastazja Somers
Theatre N16 has set up the First Credit initiative in order to help drama school graduates land their first gig in a paid, professional environment, something that proves nearly impossible for most people when they first enter this industry. This year’s First Credit particularly suits the mood of our society at present, as Last Man Standing depicts a story of a group of young people from Yorkshire during World War I.
The cast of seven delivers well-rounded performances and there is a real spirit of trust and ensemble energy about this production. It is also worth noticing that there is genuine character development and all of the seven actors are good listeners, which allows for the piece to take on a naturalistic tempo. The storyline jumps forward and back, in between innocent times where the young working class lads enjoy the everyday freedom of teenage life, to darker times, where they yearn for home and their loved ones in the French trenches.
Although Larkin’s direction is full of a great, punchy energy, she also allows her actors to take over the space, permitting an immersive and somewhat urgent atmosphere to take over the small room above the Bedford pub, the text is the weakest aspect of this production. Originally devised by a group of GCSE students from Sheffield, Last Man Standing, in this case written by Jude Cole, lacks in subtext and proves to be quite an irrelevant piece of theatre when looked at in a bigger and more socio-political spectrum. There seems to be plenty of missed opportunities when it comes to depicting the unfairness of the class system and although the production features two female characters, unfortunately they only exist in relation to men.
Sophie Bradley and Lucy Annable deliver moving performances but it’s even more so frustrating to see them switching between yearning for men and crying about the ordeals they had to endure because of men. When one of the female characters became a nurse in one of the overcrowded medical facilities during the war, this could have been her chance to show the female point of view and bring us closer to understand the harrowing work that women have done in order to keep the country going when the men have left. But no, once again the female character was reduced to talking about men.
There is something incredibly important about seeing a bunch of young actors fulfilling their dreams in a production that aims to talk about crucial and universal issues and that aspect of this First Credit production should not be overlooked, but I do worry, as an immigrant and a woman, I found it really hard to connect with the piece. I am not suggesting that this was the intention of its creators, to create a piece of theatre about World War I that would only resonate with English audiences, but perhaps the feeling of alienating the audiences could suggest that Last Man Standing is not as timely as many would think.
Last Man Standing runs through 18 November.
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