The Last Return review – what queuing etiquette reveals about western imperialism

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The Guardian

Everybody knows their place in Sonya Kelly’s satirical comedy for Druid Theatre Company. In the seemingly civilised setting of a theatre foyer, four people waiting for returned tickets to an acclaimed production become increasingly fractious and competitive.

That the production in question is titled Oppenheimer’s Return to Hindenburg is a hint that something very destructive is about to happen. Knowing references to “the Oppenheimer” denote membership of a high cultural club, especially for the professor (Bosco Hogan) who is first in the queue. When he is joined by the equally determined Umbrella Woman (Fiona Bell), it becomes clear that they have their own very particular and rather desperate reasons to see this performance.

Kelly’s absurdist humour is to the fore here and the tone is initially light. As each character defends their entitlement to their position in the queue, others seek to jump ahead, ignored by the aggressively uncooperative Ticket Person (Anna Healy). Relishing the inflexibility of “the system’’, she declares that she cares absolutely nothing for any of them, nor their urgent circumstances.

Spiteful … Bosco Hogan and Fiona Bell. Photograph: Ste Murray

When a silent Woman in Pink from Somalia (Naima Swaleh) moves to the top of the queue, tensions escalate. Add to this group a volatile US soldier (Fionn Ó Loingsigh) with PTSD and the mix becomes explosive. Pitch black comic mayhem ensues, precisely paced by director Sara Joyce. The timing by the superb cast is spot-on throughout, with Bell in a prim suit becoming deliciously spiteful and manic.

As the veneer of decorum cracks, there are echoes of Yasmina Reza’s Art, and of Pinter’s depictions of personal space and territory becoming politically charged. The theme of western dominance and colonisation is woven throughout in ways that become increasingly explicit, not least during an ironic rendering of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU anthem.

Amid so much nihilistic energy, a reversal involving the Woman in Pink giving her perspective on 400 years of European history seems didactic, as does a surprising ending, incongruous in tone. Kelly’s underlying point about the human urge to seize advantage by any available means has already been forcefully made.

July 17, 2022 at 08:24PM Helen Meany

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