The Last Show Before We Die at Edinburgh Festival Fringe – review

The experimental two-hander runs at Summerhall’s Roundabout stage

Ell Potter and Mary Higgins in a scene from The Last Show Before We Die
Ell Potter and Mary Higgins in The Last Show Before We Die, © Felix Mosse

In a bold move for the opening of a play, the two characters in this show start off dead. Sprawled in the middle of the floor, the audience has to step over them as they make their way to their seats, which makes for a striking visual image to kick things off. They stage their resurrection as the lights go down, however, and thus begins The Last Show Before We Die, an exploration of what makes an ending and the effect that has on us all.

And as we explore that huge philosophical topic, we also get to know Ell Potter and Mary Higgins, who are in a relationship but are considering finishing it. The play, therefore, has two strands that run in parallel, and as we examine the nature of endings we get insights into Mary and Ell’s characters, what makes them tick, and where their relationship is going.

The script revolves around the actors’ own reflections spliced in with recorded interviews, all of which reflect on what endings mean to the speaker. Mixed in with these often profound thoughts is a delicious peppering of absurdism, such as impressions of crows, a boxing match that morphs into a thumb war, and a number from Cabaret. The fourth wall isn’t so much broken as exploded: “Are ready for a tonal shift?” It’s daft and often very funny, but also contains nuggets of real depth. The idea, for example, that an ending is a more natural process than terminating, or of how little endings (like forgetting to buy loo roll) can speak into bigger endings (like breaking up with your partner).

Potter and Higgins act it out with tremendous energy and great physicality. Their dialogue is sharp, and very well delivered, most virtuosically in a scene where they speak over one another but in such perfect timing that they arrive at the same juncture points simultaneously. They also do much without speaking, using their faces and bodies to say a great deal silently. That creates longueurs in places, however, and some of the more physical scenes are much too prolonged. The opening resurrection, for example, contains a lot of wriggling; too much! And both the aftermath of the boxing match and their final dance sequence are extended way beyond their natural lives.

The show’s own ending is done very well, however, exploring the idea of an ending that can bring love and connection, and involving the audience effectively in a striking final image. Altogether it’s a mixture of the bonkers with the profound, producing something that’s sort of wonderful, and blissfully experimental.