Written and directed by Helen McCabe, The Last Train Out of Here is a brand new script which seeks to explore familial relationships and an intricate love triangle as they reach their climax in one emotionally charged night. Except they don’t quite.
Set in a small town in East Lancashire, the play explores the relationship of two brothers, Rob (Andrew Bottomley) and Sam (Tom Bishop), and their new step-sister Nikki (Prudence Buxton), while articulating Rob’s overwhelming desire to escape from a town where he doesn’t belong and break out into the real world. Things are further complicated by Rob’s feelings for Nikki, who he has been sleeping with for the past month, and the revelation that it is in fact his brother that she is in love with. Throw the discovery of letters between Rob and Sam’s parents which make the boys familiar with past events they had been oblivious to into the mix, and it is hardly surprising that the play ends with a dramatic confrontation and suicide attempt.
Prudence Buxton gave a strong performance as Nikki, while both boys tended to fall flat at times. Part of the problem was a lack of chemistry between the characters, although this became less apparent as the play went on. The relationship of older and younger brother was stretched too far at times, with Andrew Bottomly an overly awkward, ‘good’ older brother, and Tom Bishop rather too petty and childish as the younger brother. However, the heart-to-heart of the final scene revealed both as good actors able to capture with poignancy their characters’ struggles with identity.
The last scene was certainly strong, but would have been more powerful if there had been a clearer build-up of tension. Instead, much of the beginning of the play seems to focus upon the three teenagers arguing simply for the sake of portraying the clichéd ‘dysfunctional family’ backdrop upon which the play clearly depends. The script is also sloppy at times, repeating details which we have already been told. And the box from which the revelatory love letters were produced could have done with being bigger, to make the audience believe that they had been concealed at the bottom. These may seem minor points, but the proximity of the audience to the actors in the BT make details like this extremely visible. Aside from this point, however, the set was very good and the staging well choreographed.
It is subject matter which has been treated before, but this did not make McCabe’s script less honest. Although melodramatic at times, it was also a powerful exploration into many of the difficulties which teenagers grapple with in their private lives. Enjoyable may not be the right word to describe a play which was hardly cheerful, but it was compelling. And as an audience member commented at the end, ‘That’s just like a scene out of my house,’ suggesting that elements of McCabe’s portrayal resonated with us all.