At Last, Lion and Unicorn

What happens when the worst happens? What happens when it ends?

At Last is a story of an alternative but not unrecognisable Britain. One living through and then coming to terms with a fascist, authoritarian government. It depict the things that were done and the way they are dealt with when the regime falls.

Cast of At Last Photo: Ross Kernahan

This is an ensemble piece and each of the actors is magnificent. From Malcolm Jeffries truly chilling unrepentant fascist Asper to the family broken by conflict with one brother Jack (Michael Faulkner) in prison and the other Danny (David Angland) in the police and their heartbroken mother (Demelza O’Sullivan) trying to keep together that which is falling apart.

The action jumps around in terms of time from the fascist recent past to the present day where Grace – a sort of lawyer/social worker (Melissa Phillips) guides the selected few through the ‘truth and reconciliation’ hearings. Also heard from are bystander Colin (Anthony Fagan) and would be radical Nikki (Gemma Wray). Everyone has a story. Everyone’s story is important.

David Angland. Photo by Ross Kernahan

Each of the characters has a part they played during the regime, be that victim or perpetrator, leader or follower, resister or supporter. In many ways, while the story of the radicals at each end of the scale is important, the more powerful impact comes from the ordinary people. The famous historian of totalitarianism Hannah Arendt (who coined the term the banality of evil) wrote “the sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good.” In the case of the three characters who worked for the regime, this is fully apt for both Danny and – in particular – Colin. Only Asper. the most senior, the most connected is a true believer. But it is through the other characters that the audience is asked to examine their own limits. What would we do to keep our heads down and save our own necks?

As regular readers of my reviews will know I am something of a fan of the output of Proforca Theatre. Their artistic director David Brady also directed At Last. This is a bigger play than previous output – wider in its scope and ambition. Brady has taken this further challenge on imaginatively and confidently. The play is long for fringe theatre, but simply never feels it. It is pacey, engaging, compelling. It never feels flabby but equally the shocks never feel forced. It tells its story without flinching.

I love to cry at the theatre, finding it cathartic and strangely cleansing. Usually, though, I don’t have to hide in the loo for a few minutes afterwards because I can’t stop. But every time I thought again about a small moment between the brothers, there I was again, tears streaming.

At Last is a powerfully moving play. It is also a terrifying parable for the age we live in. Because the truth is, we are in a world where Trump, Bolsanaro, Orban and others are in power. We are in a country where as I watched this play the government is fighting the supreme court over its right to shut down Parliament. We are the frog slowly being boiled in an increasingly fascist stew. If theatre is there to hold up a mirror to our world, then it is our responsibility as an audience to understand what we are shown. In At Last, the message is one of both terror and ultimate hope. Appreciating how both are in us, both are possible is essential.

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