• Chris O'Rourke

The Last Return


Anna Healy, Fiona Bell and Bosco Hogan in The Last Return by Sonya Kelly. Image by Ste Murray

****

Sonya Kelly's darkly comic The Last Return, might imagine a brave, woke world, but it looks an awful lot like the same old scene. A world where power is always taken, shrewdly if possible, violently if necessary. Where lies, once they're noble, excuse all, and you get to decide if your lying is noble and not your victim. Where only the stupid adhere to informal social systems, like queueing, especially when queues can easily be taken advantage of. Ending on a final image of triumphant black immigrants surrounded by a slew of dead white bodies, never mind that the whites have killed each other, signifiers become doubly contentious. Along with tones of self-righteous entitlement competing in the name of justice.

Fionn O'Liongsigh, Anna Healy and Fiona Bell in The Last Return by Sonya Kelly. Image by Ste Murray


Less a narrative so much as a ruse, Kelly's device is genius in its simplicity. A group of people gather at a ticket office waiting for returns for Oppenheimer's Return To Hindenburg, a sell out show on its final night. Metaphors and meanings run riot as ludicrous and hilarious scenes unfold. An incontinent professor, a passive aggressive office worker, a PTSD fly boy, a Somali woman who may or may not speak English, all wait beside an abandoned bag securing a seat for a mysterious girl off availing of the cafeteria. A gesture that sets off a string of resentments, compounded by a shortage of seats and the Somali woman placing herself at the top of the queue. Meanwhile a bureaucratic Ticket Woman straight from Kafka, with the rat-a-tat personality of a machine gun, refuses to establish order from her ivory towered desk in Francis O'Connor's superb set.

Anna Healy, Fiona Bell and Bosco Hogan in The Last Return by Sonya Kelly. Image by Ste Murray

A better way to describe The Last Return might be some Europeans, an American and an African walk into a ticket office and argue 400 years of colonisation and history. Under Sara Joyce's direction, the result is a British styled satirical comedy. If Kelly's script suggests a Woodhouse tale of farcical situations and quirky eccentrics puncturing notions of respectability, Joyce works cleverly with that. Bosco Hogan's grumpy Professor channeling the vain pomposity of Dad's Army and Last of the Summer Wine. A superlative Fiona Bell conveying the breed apart superiority of Keeping Up Appearances, and doing so with comic relish. But The Last Return is baiting bigger fish, and Joyce deftly turns situation comedy into Dr Strangelove, or Catch 22. The arrival of Fionn O'Liongsigh's over the top American pilot being pivotal; O'Liongsigh so sensationally funny he almost steals the show. If only Bell hadn't already done so. No mean feat, as Anna Healy's dry as dust Ticket Women is also a sheer treat. Leaving us with the vastly underused Naima Swaleh as the Somali woman in pink. It's not that she's surplus to events, she's playing the same game and playing it better, but her silence places her elsewhere. A point in itself. But when her voice is restored it functions as a didactic mouthpiece. Efforts to reclaim her as a person by way of a Hallmark ending come too little, too late as it sugar rushes clumsily for the finish line.

Niamh Swaleh in The Last Return by Sonya Kelly. Image by Ste Murray


One could argue The Last Return speaks primarily to Europe's colonial chickens returning to roost. Or you could argue it indirectly feeds into racist fears towards immigrants by confirming their worst prejudices. Though it preaches to the liberally converted, The Last Return stirs up a few political hornet’s nests. Whether you agree or disagree with its politics, believe them brilliantly conveyed or badly handled, Kelly asks some stinging questions by way of lashings of genuine laughter. It's easy to miss the cleverness and bravery here, that which make The Last Return more than serious good fun. The moral of the story appearing to be: never trust a homemade protein ball from a stranger. Which is a little like saying Fiona Bell is an actor of such range and brilliance you'd be insane to miss this hilarious, thought provoking production. It might be stating the obvious, but it's an obvious well worth stating.


The Last Return by Sonya Kelly, presented by Druid Theatre, runs at The Mick Lally Theatre as part of Galway International Arts Festival until July 22.


It then runs at Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 4 - 28.


For more information, visit Druid Theatre Company or Galway International Arts Festival.

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