You spend a lot of time in queues at Edinburgh Fringe so Sonya Kelly’s dark comedy, The Last Return, is a perfect choice for the festival. Set in the foyer of a modern theatre in an unspecified European country, it opens as a delightfully clever dissection of the etiquette of queuing as a handful of people turn up hoping for a returned ticket for a sold-out show. Each has their own deeply personal reason to be there and, with no help from the jaded box office manager, they negotiate and bargain for their places in line and their rights to a ticket.
Kelly brilliantly explores the complex and often unspoken social contracts at play in the supposedly simple act of queuing but it emerges that she is using this as a starting point to tackle larger themes around social systems, human connection and the fragile structures of civilisation. As an American soldier and a Somali refugee join the queue, the play goes in alarming and unexpected directions where the realistic drama steadily breaks down and reveals its postdramatic heart.
Fiona Bell and Bosco Hogan are superb as the first queuers on stage alongside later arrivals, Naima Swaleh and Fionn Ó Loingsigh, while Anna Healy stands out hilariously as the stern and uncaring box office manager. Their comic timing is perfect under the precise direction of Sara Joyce, who injects the drama with great energy despite its static premise. The striking set designed by Francis O’Connor conjures up a monolithic theatre foyer on stage, reflecting the play’s concerns with the place of high culture in society, with effective lighting by Amy Mae, especially as the play becomes more absurdist. It takes on a more didactic tone towards the end to underpin the larger themes but overall The Last Return is a compelling and exciting piece of theatre.
The Last Return runs at the Traverse Theatre as part of Edinburgh Fringe until 28 August 2022. Tickets at traverse.co.uk or edfringe.com.