The Last Time: A Story of Love, Lust and Desperation. Book, music and lyrics by Lucy Matthews. Directed by Matthews and Miriam Slater. Acoustic Theatre. Belconnen Arts Centre, until Sunday. Bookings: belconnenartscentre.com.au.
What is life like for 20-somethings living in Canberra in the 21st century? How do they make sense of life and where do sex, romance, strife and euphoria fit into the picture? If you have ever wondered what on earth motivates those scantily clad nymphs and staggering lads falling about on the road at midnight outside a certain Civic bar named after a large antlered animal, The Last Time offers some answers. Directors Lucy Matthews and Miriam Slater have bravely flicked open the vertical blinds of apartments, group houses and bars across Canberra to allow the audience to observe the young and their modern mating rituals.
"F--- love – we all love to f---" is the provocative cry from the character, Caroline, and indeed it does seem that there is little room in the dark comedy for the development of deeper emotional connections between the four actors – no compassion, no spiritual exploration, no generosity and no happiness. Night after night ends in a stranger's bed or on their floor with an almighty hangover. Was it, is it really this bleak and inevitable a pattern for young people? For all the explicit fondling, there is little action that seems sensual, beautiful and seductive. This is reality for the characters, as the program notes explain, "their self-destructive egos leave them wondering where their clothes, and their dignity went".
The complex musical score, blends dramatic solos, clever harmonised settings and improvised thematic material played by the live ensemble: Brodie Heidtmann on guitar; Brent Brosnan on drums; Reid Workman on guitar and Luke Tompsett on piano. Kat Bramston as Caroline is the central narcissistic force aggressively seeking oblivion and sexual freedom, running from her fear of becoming "an incubator for a baby". Her strident soprano matches her character well and contrasts with the gutsy, gorgeous Ellie, played by Frances McNair, whose rich velvety voice leaps with a siren call to blend with that of Valerie, played by Katherine Berry. Christopher, played by Hayden Crosweller gives a clever balanced performance – delivering witty comments clearly and bouncing backwards and forwards between the women, in and out of trousers and dresses as the mood takes him to lighten the mood or add a dark shade of foreboding.
The Last Time is a disturbing comedy. I am not sure that there is a clear enough dramatic conclusion with the finale musical all-in number. Do the playwrights intend us to believe that this cycle of drunken casual sex will never evolve into something deeper? Is there hope for any of the characters to find their way to each other or someone else to share the journey? Perhaps not, but there is certainly abundant exuberance and a wild lust for the next Friday night adventure.