first night

After The End

Corinna Harrison spends an intense evening in a bunker with 1TC's 'After The End'.

After The End, directed by Kitty Briggs and brought to life by Zac Tiplady as Mark and Emma Howell as Louise, aimed to at once shock, engage, and entertain. Although they succeeded on all of these fronts, for me there was something lacking. That being said, it was a brilliant production and you should certainly go and see it if you're not of a nervous disposition or subject to claustrophobic dreams where you're locked in a bunker with someone a touch insane.

To begin with, The Three Tuns was an incredibly well suited venue to the play, and props to the production team for sourcing it. The abandoned hotel vibe, where everything was cold and slightly falling apart, added immensely to the realism and overall atmosphere, as did the decision to stage it in the round with the audience almost immersed in the action themselves. The play began with a video projected onto the far wall with real voiceovers in various languages about bombings or nuclear attacks, until the actors entered the room with an unconscious Louise slung over Mark's shoulder. The first few minutes of the play were silent as Mark waited for Louise to wake up, pacing and crying. Coupled with the set, and the location itself, this put the audience on edge and unsure from the start about the subtext beneath this couple's relationship.

Whilst the dialogue initially felt a bit stilted and unnatural, the actors quickly overcame this, with some lovely moments of natural conversation (such as talking at the same time and interrupting each other). Tiplady came into his own during his less intense scenes—both awkward and darkly amusing whilst conveying the conviction of what he was saying. However blinkered his views were, he was almost childlike, though he should be careful not to let this become too caricatured. Howell, meanwhile, excelled in the moments where she was in charge of the scene: her forcefulness, understated anger and condescending tone really shone through. It would have been nice in certain moments, however, to have had even more of an explosion of emotion from both characters as, whilst there was clearly a lot of anger, I would like to have felt it even more intensely. That said, I understand there is a lot to be said for some anger being under the surface. It was particularly difficult to watch "that scene" because of the intensity without anger, and I would strongly suggest trigger warnings on the door or at the ticket desk as it is very explicit.

From a directorial point of view, whilst movement in something such as this is important to stop it becoming too static, Howell should be careful not to walk for walking's sake and there's a lot to be said for stillness in helping to raise tension. Both actors should also be careful not to make things too contrived in the small details, such as always changing something during blackouts to show the passing of time. Although it is a useful technique, once the audience had understood what the blackouts signified, it became slightly unnecessary for it to be used each time.

The set change as a crime scene was a really good idea, though I would question the use of the gas mask by one person. It was also a shame that the final scene went on quite so long after the climax of the previous scene, and it could have benefitted from being cut down. Despite this, I enjoyed what it showed about Howell's character, and I think some of her best moments were during this scene. Uday Duggal, despite playing a silent role who isn't even on the play’s list of characters, showed his talent in his engagement with the dialogue of the others.

The actors performed admirably and I can't imagine how difficult it must be to maintain that level of intensity and commitment over almost two hours of stage time. However, my one piece of advice would be to really focus on their characters and who they are as people, as there were some reactions or emotions that felt jarring and, whilst this may be at times deliberate, it broke the connection I had with the scene and therefore struggled to fully immerse myself. Everyone should see this play, though. It's very good and Briggs should be proud of tackling difficult themes and a tricky script to create something of such a high calibre.

13 December 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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