Last Easter review – a lovable drama about life, death and theatre

Orange Tree theatre, London
Bryony Lavery’s play, revived by director Tinuke Craig, celebrates friendship with truths, humour and good punchlines

A play about serious illness and the search for a cure might resonate in our times but also runs the risk of being too cheerlessly close to home. So this revival of Bryony Lavery’s feelgood death drama – as upbeat as a story about assisted suicide is going to get – performs its own miracle in its warmth, gusto and celebration of life and friendship.

Four friends take a road trip to Lourdes after discovering that June (Naana Agyei-Ampadu) has a secondary cancer that nothing short of a Christian miracle will cure. Directed by Tinuke Craig, it feels like an ode to theatre as well as life; all the characters are connected to the stage – June is a lighting designer, Leah (Jodie Jacobs) a prop maker, Joy (Ellie Piercy) an actor and Gash (Peter Caulfield) a drag artist with a tendency to burst into Judy Garland songs. Hannah Wolfe’s set is bare but for a keyboard and office chairs on wheels, rearranged as the actors conjure scenes.

At first it all feels too giddy. Snatches of songs are wedged into the drama and there is direct address with some cute meta reflections that become a little wearing. Meditative moments are tucked in amid the rambunctiousness. “Such a small life,” says June, who talks of perfect happiness as she smokes a cigarette in the sun. She is a compelling character, dryly witty even while navigating death and excellently played by Agyei-Ampadu, but she is also the most distant. “It’s really not that interesting – sickness,” she says, perhaps as an explanation. Yet we want more of her, and we also want her seriousness to leaven the madcap comedy.

The second part hits a different stride and gathers intensity alongside the humour once the hijinks of the Lourdes scenes are over. Even if the characters remain types, they interact wonderfully and bring sweet silliness and some good punchlines. “Dying is not just about you, you know,” says Joy to the dead boyfriend who won’t stop haunting her. It is momentary truths like this that light up the play.

Friendship is, for all its warmth, highly sentimentalised and the production has the light, easy watchability of a sitcom – this could be the final episode of Friends. But we cannot resent this schmaltz and the deathbed scene feels – oddly – like an antidote to death. It is all messy, imperfect, cheesy, too loud and gabbling but supremely lovable despite its flaws, or perhaps because of them – just like a lifelong friend.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
15 Heroines: The Labyrinth review – defiant women rise up from the myths
These bite-sized, beautifully written short plays give a powerful voice to aggrieved heroines from Greek and Roman mythology

Arifa Akbar

09, Nov, 2020 @12:51 PM

Article image
Inside review – trio of anxious lockdown studies
Deborah Bruce’s grief-stricken monologue Guidesky and I is the pick of the Orange Tree theatre’s introspective bunch

Arifa Akbar

26, Mar, 2021 @1:02 PM

Article image
Shaw Shorts review – a double dose of delightful comedy
Two plays explore George Bernard Shaw’s questioning of social values, directed by Paul Miller as a pointer towards Pinter

Mark Lawson

27, May, 2021 @11:03 AM

Article image
Dublin theatre festival review – compelling, exciting drama
Immersive Irish history, unacknowledged Aids deaths and post-coital chats – this year’s festival is challenging and entertaining

Helen Meany

12, Oct, 2021 @2:10 PM

Article image
The Solid Life of Sugar Water review – Jack Thorne’s superb drama of love and loss
Brilliantly acted, designed and directed, Thorne’s tender but brutally powerful portrait of a couple gets an overdue revival

Miriam Gillinson

20, Oct, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Yellowman review – colourism drama with two terrific leads
Nadine Higgin and Aaron Anthony excel as the couple in Dael Orlandersmith’s Pulitzer-nominated play

Anya Ryan

09, Sep, 2022 @12:07 PM

Article image
Tom Fool review – money bites in deeply felt family drama
Franz Xaver Kroetz’s play is a sharp exploration of the way finances wriggle their way into the existing rifts of everyday life

Kate Wyver

17, Mar, 2022 @7:22 PM

Article image
Out of Water review – Zoe Cooper's coastal drama is captivating
The nature of identity is explored with compassion in Cooper’s play which features brilliant performances

Miriam Gillinson

02, May, 2019 @7:40 PM

Article image
What Do We Need To Talk About? review – addictive family drama
The Apple siblings from Richard Nelson’s quartet of plays return on a Zoom call to talk about life in lockdown

Arifa Akbar

17, May, 2020 @1:23 PM

Article image
Once Upon a Bridge review – three worlds collide in near-death drama
Inspired by a real incident where a woman was barged into the path of an oncoming bus, Sonya Kelly’s play explores proximity and distance

Helen Meany

12, Feb, 2021 @12:14 PM