Short, sweet and memorable, The Last Picture Show, written and directed by Morag Fullarton, transports its audience to the aftermath of World War I. It’s a family-friendly tale of a soldier rediscovering himself after war. An exploration of trauma and healing, this production is a moving tribute to veterans and a wonderful historical piece.
The play tells the story of Bob (Matthew Tomlinson), a Scottish musician returning home after witnessing the horrors of the battlefield during the First World War. The experience has left him with both physical and emotional scars, and the play examines the process of his integration into his society after such a life-altering experience. Bob has lost his vision, and must wear a mask to cover the deformed top half of his face. In spite of this, his musical talent is unblemished. When his gifts are discovered by young troublemaker Willy (Matthew Campbell), the two practice together and seek a role for Bob as the pianist for a silent picture cinema. In a Cyrano-like set up, Willy acts as Bob’s eyes, narrating the action of the pictures in order to inform the mood of the piano backing music.
This set-up really works. It’s fantastic to watch the Charlie Chaplin clips projected on-screen as accompanied by a live piano backing track. This provides a fascinating insight into a cultural artifact long forgotten. The social commentary of Chaplin’s war-era films cannot be understated when discussing his success as an artist, and the production team’s choice to include clips of some of his best comedic moments fits accordingly. The play is also a testament to musical director and composer Hilary Brooks’ ability, as the songs feel time-appropriate and charming. Supported by the immense musical talent of the performers, the songs are what makes this production worth seeing.
Helen McAlpine truly shines as the sole female member of the cast. She multi-roles as several different characters, bringing a unique flavour to each. Although this directorial choice begs the question of why the female characters were left as supporting characters on the outskirts of this narrative, she was a fantastic highlight of the piece. In particular, a scene in which she helps Bob practice his act as Willy’s young neighbour was a big hit with the audience. Clad as Chaplin, she imitates his classic ‘little tramp’ walk and performs various little stunts, using her excellent comic physicality to create an endearing performance.
While the use of projection and scenic design gave a vintage feel that was invaluable to the production, at times scene changes and background images felt a bit awkward. The use of a capella singing during set changes felt forced at times, and pictures that pertained to dialogue projected onto the backdrop did not work as well as the projected films.
The Last Picture Show is a part of Traverse Theatre’s ‘A Play, a Pie, and a Pint’ series which will be running until Saturday the 20thof October, and is well worth seeing if you are a history buff, a music lover, or a vintage film fan.