'The Last Supper: Gospel of a Heinous Housewife' Theatre Review
I got the chance to see The Last Supper at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which I took part in as an actor myself. The concept of this play was right up my street, and so despite already knowing a few of the cast members personally this show would have certainly drawn me in regardless.
It's based on the hit reality-TV franchise The Real Housewives, which itself has spawned 19 individual series (not including countless spin-offs) and happens to be a personal guilty pleasure. Director Freddie Main compiles some of the franchise's most recognizable archetypes and plot lines into an hour long parody, and he does so with brilliant success.
A delightfully camp spoof of the franchise's opening credits introduces audiences to the housewives at hand. Joslyn (played by Pheobe White) is seemingly inspired by The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' Erika Jayne, and is the first character we get to meet. In a confession-style monologue we're informed that we - the 'tv' audience - are to witness her birthday meal. Of course, in true Housewives fashion, this well-intentioned dinner party spirals further out of control as each new guest arrives. White is extremely funny in the role, and her way of opening the play primes the audience for the chaos set to unfold.
Heather O'Donnell's Monica is the next woman to arrive. The character combines the underlying mania of New York's Ramona Singer with the business acumen of the same show's Bethenny Frankel. Many of the character's laughs come from her reactions to the continuing events around her; O'Donnell, along with the rest of her cast, was constantly in-role, meaning watching her was genuinely funny and rewarding even when she wasn't the scene's focus.
Eleanor Stone plays the brilliantly overbearing Rita (that's "Mama Bear", to you), and proves to be as loud and delusional as the very best of the real Real Housewives. Based on New Jersey's Caroline Manzo, Rita is a force to be reckoned with. Her surprisingly extensive life experience is relayed through multiple laugh-out-loud anecdotes, and these prove crucial to the plot as it progresses.
The comparatively timid Suzanne, played by Ellie Brewster, is the housewife with her feet most firmly on the ground and often speaks for the audience in terms of voicing her concerns. The character is more of a 'straight man', off-setting the heightened melodrama around her in an endearing performance. Suzanne, in many ways, acts as our safety-bar in this roller-coaster of a play, and yet the script finds a brilliantly clever way to subvert the character during its denouement; what reality show, after all, is complete without a last-minute twist?
Kathryn is one of the last guests to arrive, and the character, played by Rhianna Jarrett, fills the role of the villain (every good season of Housewives needs one). Her entrance shifts the tone of the play immediately, and the newfound tension in the air proves fertile ground for comedy - expect some wickedly awkward silences. Kathryn is shrouded in mystery for much of the play; it's unclear why she's so spiteful and it's unclear why she's so feared. This is the piece's central mystery, and it is this dramatic irony which proves to be the crux of the play's main plot.
The play's humour takes priority over its narrative at times - which would have only been a problem if the jokes weren't as brilliantly written, directed and delivered. In fact, the various monologues and skits become progressively funnier and absurd as the play goes on; the piece evolves from a brilliant spoof into a camp and heightened spectacle, and it's hard to talk about exactly how because that (in part) ruins the joke. It becomes, essentially, the Housewives on acid. This ascent into hysteria is cleverly balanced with a couple of narrative plot-twists anyway, giving those that need to catch their breath the chance to do so before the lights go up.
Fans of The Real Housewives will find this a joy - there's so much in here to love. The Last Supper starts out as a brilliantly crafted, SNL-style spoof and then, without us realizing at first, ramps up until what stands is a play that's surprisingly fresh and innovative. These aren't your typical Housewives, and this isn't your typical parody, but the various styles of comedy within ensure almost everyone will find something to laugh at.
Put short, if this was a new Real Housewives pilot, I'd commission the series.
Written by James Green
Disclaimer: I am friendly with some of the cast and knew them before seeing this play, but have made a conscious effort to review the show as honestly as possible.