The premise of Matt Kenyon’s The First Last would have been right at home in a sitcom: a gay man somehow gets a woman, who is not only three years older but also has a boyfriend, pregnant, and chaos ensues. With priceless lines such as “that was some devastatingly potent sperm”, a dazzling series of hilariously awkward scenarios, and extremely effective use of a penguin plushie, Kenyon’s new play is beautifully absurd in all the right ways, and I laughed until I cried.
A strong opening scene set the tone of the play immediately: our protagonist, Jimmy (Joe Davies), walks into a fancy-dress party dressed in a tight-fitting neon green spandex morphsuit, and quickly realises he is the only person who has taken the theme seriously. A series of poor decisions leads to him having sex with a woman for the first time, despite the ludicrous choice of outfit. In the hilarity that follows, highlights of the play include a hysterical David Attenborough impression by Jack Blowers, Alison Hall briefly playing a Tesco self-checkout machine, and a scene involving two Welshmen at a coach station. The story was always going to be bizarre, and Kenyon fully leans into this, creating a stupendously compelling plot married with the best of cringe comedy.
A word must also be said about the technical aspects of the production. I must commend Jake Rich for the meticulous thought he clearly put into creating a truly immersive soundscape, and I greatly enjoyed the sound effects that ranged from the mundane sounds of the Tube, to a delightful ‘plop’ sound when Jimmy and his sister Lily (Catty Tucker) went fishing for crabs. A large calendar mounted on a whiteboard in the background was a very effective prop to show the passage of time as the play progressed towards the due date of the baby, and the simplistic set was paired with impeccable blocking choices by director Hannah Bradburn.
However, despite the play’s many strong points, some areas could have used some improvement, though many of these faults can be easily explained by either opening night nerves and/or a sacrifice made for the sake of comedy. Overall, I felt the acting was far too naturalistic for a script that clearly called for over-the-top caricatures. Davies and Tucker had spot-on sibling chemistry, but I did feel Tucker could have had a bigger reaction to the news that her brother accidentally got someone pregnant, and that she was to become an aunt. A striking exception to this criticism was Alison Hall, who played Jimmy’s drunk, oblivious mother and pitched her character perfectly.
Some of the line delivery, while funny, also felt inappropriate for the situation: a scene where a gay man fires off at Jimmy about going “full hetero” was performed a little too theatrically to be goading, and was an odd choice of direction. The script was definitely strong, though the way certain things were phrased felt a tad unnatural and stilted, in the sense that they were not typical real-life conversations. Finally, a major plot point that was completely glossed over was the fact that Jimmy and Carrie (Emma Hinnells) could have terminated the pregnancy, and it is never quite explained why they automatically assume the child is to be born; I assumed this was probably because the subject might have been too heavy for a comedy.
All in all, The First Last is uproariously funny, and Kenyon should be very proud of the sheer volume of side-splitting jokes he managed to cram into an hour. It ended on a surprisingly sweet and hopeful note, the takeaway being that no matter what one’s predicament was, it could always, definitely, be worse. Granted, the plot was a tad far-fetched, but it was more than forgiveable for the absolutely riotous comedy it produced. This is definitely not a show you want to miss.