After two weeks of scribbling about Oscar Wilde and Amadeus, reviewing The First Last proved to be a step outside of my comfort zone. A new comedy from the pen of student playwright Matt Kenyon, it deals with the understandably turbulent consequences of Jimmie, an ‘exclusive gay’ man, drunkenly impregnating the older, bitter and not-at-all-cheating-on-her-asshole-boyfriend Carrie. Worlds away from the giggling composers and hoity-toity Victorian posturing of the aforementioned productions I reviewed, you can understand why I might have felt a little out of my depth. Though I needn’t have – for The First Last is an unmitigated triumph.
Opening in the enticing gloom of the Burton Taylor Studio, the audience surrounds the stage on three sides, an arrangement which evokes a remarkable sense of intimacy. You’re drawn in right from the beginning: party music bops in the background, booze and shot glasses are centre stage, and our hero, Jimmie (Joe Davies), strides on dressed in a green morph suit. In his defence, it’s not the worst costume I’ve seen at a party, and it doesn’t seem to dent his sex appeal: after Carrie (Emma Hinnells) saves him from the advances of a fellow party-goer, she and Jimmie get drinking, one thing leads to another, and before you know it there’s a lot of fumbling with the morph suit zip. Two months later, she has morning sickness, and he has to face the reality of telling his alcoholic mother and unsympathetic flatmate – and, let’s be honest, a rather confused world – how he’s accidentally facing fatherhood as a 21-year-old gay student. With a set-up like that, there’s plenty to run with, and Kenyon’s script doesn’t put a foot wrong.
Kenyon leaves no stone unturned in his portrayal of outrageous scenes. There are Jimmie and Carrie’s awkward non-date dates. There’s a mistimed family holiday to Anglesey, including some Gavin and Stacey-style locals. There’s a hilarious conversation with Carrie’s perpetually unlucky yet disturbingly sunny boss. And there’s a pitch perfect David Attenborough spoof, including the best use of a stuffed penguin I’ve seen…well, ever, really. Clearly I haven’t lived.
Throughout all of this, what stands out is the vibrancy of Kenyon’s imagination, and the cast’s camaraderie and comedy chops. There is no weak link: Catty Tucker shines as Jimmie’s acerbic sister; Jack Rennie makes a sufficiently shell-shocked boss (and Welsh dame); Alison Hall is convincing as a wonderfully batty middle-class mother. Shining in multiple roles, Jack Blowers impresses, especially as an uncannily good Attenborough. But it’s only fair that the biggest praise should be reserved for Davies and Hinnells as the central pair. Both have excellent comic timing, but their versatility as actors means they make the potentially ludicrous seem painfully real. When things get emotional – and they do – they balance seriousness and levity like professionals, and should take real pride in their performances. Director Hannah Bradburn brought the most out of Kenyon’s script and her actors, and the performance never flagged. Lighting and sound man Jake Rich must also be commended for some very inventive choices, including the excellently realised – and soon-to-be iconic – penguin scene.
Kenyon’s cracking script should see performance time and time again. There were some truly witty lines and at a points I was hooting with laughter; particular favourites addressed everything from the Welsh to self-service checkouts. Special praise, however, should go to whomever was on the till, who was lovely and understanding whilst I held up ticket-buyers by fumbling around about buying ice cream. Had I not got my act together, it would have been a tragedy: this is a show that deserves to be seen by as many as possible, my deep desire for tub of Treacle and Toffee notwithstanding. I highly recommend it.