Review by Bella Wellstead
A squashy, brown, two-seater couch, adorned here and there by scrunched-up tissues. Dark laundry strewn haphazardly across the living room floor. Rings of red wine on the coffee table and – conquering the back of the stage – a portrait of Napoleon to loom over the scene. A man and a woman sit, drinking wine from water glasses and speaking to one another with the apprehension of old friends.
Jesse and Lucas were once lovers. Former flings. Well, they used to hook up with one another, regularly, two years ago. She, an actor and writer, dragging behind her a limping, lackluster career. He, also a writer, sparkling in the afterglow of a book deal and a half-million-dollar advance. The two have reunited for one final night together, on which the tumult and transactional nature of their relationship will expose itself.
As Lucas, Sam Tilley is puny and self-indulged. He expertly captures the self-confidence of a film buff whose privilege has bolstered him throughout his life. Sitting on the couch – and surrounded by his filth – Lucas brags about his career successes. He insults Jesse’s intelligence and jerks himself off (in both a metaphorical, and a literal, sense). Searching for a reason for Jesse’s visit and an activity to keep them occupied, Lucas unveils an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. Here, writer Lily Hensby’s delights with her use of penetrative metaphor, delivered by Tilley with hilarious sincerity.
Despite his early entitlement, a sliver of empathy wraps itself around Tilley’s performance towards the end of the play. Lucas is forced to face his male privilege for the first time. He begins to realise how he has exploited his past sexual partners in return for extensive self-gain.
Lotte Beckett’s Jesse is fickle, wry, and earnest. She traverses Lucas’ living room with confidence and familiarity, meeting much of his phallocentric chatter with an incredulous smirk. Beckett’s performance retains a sense of self-assurance and autonomy – even as she begins to seduce her companion by roleplaying a maid.
The purpose of their rendezvous seems twofold, not confined to a scheme for sexual reconnection. Jesse flushes with a wary envy when she learns of Lucas’ success. She performs her own writing for him, flattering him, begging him, hoping he will pass it on to his agent. It is only when Lucas shares an excerpt from his book that Jesse begins to reckon with her memories of the time they spent together, years ago. Centered around the ‘impact’ that Lucas’ sexual relationships with various women have made on him, his book carelessly stretches the boundaries of consent. As Jesse reflects with softness on her experience with Lucas, Hensby exposes the complexity at the core of all human relationships.
In Last Time, Lily Hensby achieves both riotous wit and surprising tenderness. She gives us an intimate insight into her characters’ lives, both together and apart. Intermingling attraction, envy, collaboration, blackmail, and regret, Hensby gives those characters depth and freedom, humanizing them to an agonizing degree.
In the final moments of the show, Jesse and Lucas kneel together by a keyboard on the floor. Having bared their traumas and reckoned with the give-and-take of their relationship, they take a moment to savour the friendship at its core. As they speak quietly to one another and tentatively press the keys, the soft, yellow stage lights fade. We are left with a confidential snapshot, and a question.
Can such a relationship – built as it is on selfish foundations – truly be salvaged?