Review: A Final Act of Friendship, White Bear Theatre 


Star Rating: ★★★★★

Black Lives Matter. The messaging of this piece is as clear as it’s Title Treatment, as is the urgency of the story it tells. 

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

A Final Act of Friendship is a funny, charming and sincere, gut-punch of play. Engendering both an articulate, warm and razor-sharp dissection of friendship, as well as enacting as a powerful discourse on systemic and institutional racism. Everyday racism that leaves young boys having to explain to their, even younger, siblings why they are being stopped and searched by police again and, that strips mothers of their children, another black individual dying in police custody due to a disproportionate use of force. 

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

Diametrically opposing a white middle class experience to that of a black working class individual’s, A Final Act of Friendship beautifully interlinks the two character’s perceptions of each other, and their versions of their story. Not only uniquely and humorously telling of an unlikely friendship, that despite a number of bad assumptions and insensitivities, outlasts, it uses it’s own form, to comment upon how we can be better ally’s to our black friends, why it is important to have difficult conversations and most importantly, to stand up and show up for your friends. A poignant and well-written commentary on small acts that can make a big difference in the fight against racism. Imperative work, that can easily be described as first class. 

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

‘Acts’, thus forming an important core to the piece, with it ultimately reminding you to ask yourself, what acts can you do for others to make yourself a better friend? (As aforementioned there is an important emphasis on the power of allyship). On the other side of this, the title is also a play on words, as A Final Act of Friendship is, from a narratorial point of view, a play about acting and one that many in the industry will find endearing as well as strikingly realistic, providing a startling appraisal of the industry and it’s culture. Though it picks up on the prevalence of inequality within the system, it is also a love-letter to the passion and creativity of the industry, joyfully shouting out the Fringe Theatres of London who strive for excellence in accessibility and inspire hundreds, Following two young men, both from different backgrounds, as they meet and begin to compete in an industry that inherently favours one over the other, the play builds a narrative, where at first they are rivals in auditions, competing for a spot at drama school, (with some opinionated assumptions of each other), and though they clandestinely do finally become friends, there remains a disruptive sense of bitterness and rivalry that underpins the rifts in their friendship. It is the character’s differences that ultimately bring them together as they realise they can learn from each other in order to get ahead, but it is also these differences and ambitions, alongside their inability to see from each other’s perspective that fosters the animosity between them.

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

Therefore, A Final Act of Friendship is also a play about perspectives. As aforementioned in each situation we are told first-hand from both character’s point of view, a dual-narration, as it unfolds. From their first meeting, to their first acting jobs, to the times when they needed each other most, we experience what each are feeling and thinking and, as universally different characters this is often an opposing thought, feeling or act, showing us how truly different these characters are because of their different upbringings and cultural polarity. Yet, when they do briefly find common ground it is hugely heartwarming and pure. Making for a deeply emotive and truly humorous dichotomy, particularly when they misconstrue the other’s viewpoint. And this is where the intelligible and enigmatic direction by Natalya Micic comes into play. The White Bear Theatre space is particularly unique, because it has an audience on two faces of the playing space, one directly in front and the other, along the left-hand side. This challenge, allowed for there to be a lot of precision and thought about where each piece of address is going to be directed, like a game of cat and mouse the characters flit between talking to one side of their audience, whilst the other addresses the alternative side, there’s no particular pattern to this, enabling it to flow naturally. The result is a pacey, personable, inviting and without a doubt, engaging hour of storytelling. There were some gleaming moments where their dialogue overlaps, directed in different directions, and in those sections there is an overwhelming sense of ephemerality based on where you chose to sit yet, the perspectives, playing side by side, remain a shared and understood experience. An important lesson to remember to try and walk in someone else’s shoes for a while, to see it from their side. Most importantly, these characters are both flawed, neither Is morally better than the other, and this is hugely important because the characters feel real, a necessary factor to make the peace as powerful and relatable as it is. And with the depth achieved in these characters in mind, it isn’t hard to see familiar themes of toxic masculinity creeping in as they struggle to both empathise and to open up, unable to be honest with one and other. Here then, credit must be given to Stephen Hayward and Gbenga Jempeji for their sensational deliveries. Both are exceedingly watchable, responsible for creating characters that full of depth and can only be described as mirrors to life, masterful.  

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

Thematically then, the work eloquently strives towards promoting positive change. A Final Act of Friendship is thus, a near perfect race play. It all encompassingly tackles the subject of racial injustice from both a black and comparative white perspective, working from the ground up to start the debate about how we can improve, it’s duplicity of perspectives doing much to underline the need for positive change – in order to do better by one and educate the ignorance of the other, as well as highlighting the injustice in the disparity of their experiences. The piece is therefore astutely peppered with motives that dutifully pay homage to the Black Lives Matter movement, from it’s momentum fuelling use of archival sounds from rallies as an underscore, to it’s painted cardboard protest sign, to a protest speech that exuded the energy of John Boyega’s iconic, viral BLM rally cry and the endin, a moment of finality that is desensitising, yet hits the tone of what the protests were fighting to put an end to without even skipping a beat. The design also intrinsically supports the idea of these two converging antipodean perspectives, in it’s monochromatic, compact simplicity. Methodically, A Final Act of Friendship also sets itself the task of painting an authentic picture of the black experience that many would deny exists in the UK, from the persistent stop and search instances experienced by black men, to the challenges of accessing equal opportunities, to the higher likelihood of them being arrested for a minor or non-offence. And in this sense, there is a certain intuitive depiction of the difference in the action and consequences faced by the the two men because of their race, we begin to see the divide with the piece delicately comparing experiences and determining that, that which is ‘normal’ for one character is far from the other’s experience, we hear of expensive taxi rides, regular high-end theatre trips  with parents and fancy soho bars, compared with fringe theatre, working two jobs and looking after younger siblings in your free time and having a mum whose never even stepped foot in a theatre. Conceptually this is more than proficient. 

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

To conclude, I’ll be disappointed if this piece doesn’t go anywhere else after it’s simply too short run at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington. A Final Act of Friendship is a play about Race, a play about Friendship, about ‘Acts’, about Perspectives, about Theatre and about Finality. It is a much-needed, provocative, powerful and bitter-sweet piece. Thoughtfully written and expertly directed. Book tickets for Saturday 15th Jan here now

Photo Credit: Natalya Micic

Cast: Stephen Hayward & Gbenga Jempeji

Director: Natalya Micic

Lighting Designer: Matthew Kalorkoti


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