Last night was the preview of the last Shadow Theatre show at the Varscona before they close for the long-awaited renovations – the first time of the last time.
John Hudson directed Scott Sharplin’s two-hander about the relationship between two awkward diffident quirky characters, Ben (Mat Busby) and Airlea (Madeleine Suddaby). The characters start by addressing the audience directly, explaining that they’re going to tell the story of their relationship and then getting sidetracked in questions of the definition of story and the definition of relationship. I’ve seen Mat Busby before doing characters whose social awkwardness was part of their charm (The Jazz Mother, The Invention of Romance), and although Ben was not the same character as either of those I appreciated him in a similar way. Airlea was the more outgoing one of the pair, more resistant to romance or commitment, but a recurring theme is her wanting him to dance and him refusing.
A succession of scenes interspersed with bits of narration to the audience shows the progression of their lives and their interactions, from the night they first meet through deciding to stay together with “no ties and no lies”, the life-milestone of friends’ weddings, and then working out what they want as the original “contract” becomes less of a good fit. Their banter starts out charming and very believable, and the deeper issues encountered later in their lives are addressed with home truth and a light touch.
Cultural referents that wrapped around the story include “The Lady, or The Tiger?” (the Frank Stockton short story), “Let’s Do It” (the Cole Porter standard), and astrology vs astronomy. A small symbolic gesture including the audience near the end brought me to tears with its simple perfection. First Time Last Time runs until March 29th, with advance tickets available at Tix on the Square.