Wednesday, July 6

After The End – Theatre Royal Stratford East

Dark, disturbing and incisive, Kelly’s apocalyptic play examines human nature and hostility like a thought experiment. Louise and Mark are the lab rats in this harrowing social commentary. Louise finds herself in Mark’s bunker as they shield themselves from a nuclear attack outside. With limited supplies and suffocating, rising tension, anything could happen. The two work colleagues, make for an unlikely pairing with Louise’s feisty, uncompromising strength and Mark’s dorky enthusiasm and rigidity. As a result, it is fascinating to watch their sharp back and forth dialogue.

Nick Blood is particularly skilful at bringing Kelly’s idiosyncratic style of writing to life, catching its jerky rhythm. He is perfect as Mark, balancing his comical strangeness with his darker aspects which seep out intermittently. His consistently low level of self-awareness and erratic spouts of emotion are disquieting and repulsive but also evoke pity. In some ways, Mark is like an overgrown child and the unpredictability of his actions kept me on the edge of my seat.

Amaka Okafor’s Louise is brave, bold and full of integrity, all of which Mark lacks. Okafor conveys a very strong sense of all these qualities through her fluid movements, her natural manner of speaking and the pauses of consideration as she takes in Mark’s bizarre, inappropriate comments. Even in her most animalistic moments, she is graceful in her self-assuredness. This commands the audience’s respect. That said, her portrayal of utter exhaustion and starvation could have been stronger and more convincing.

Photo: The Other Richard

There are a few moments of clumsy, contrived direction which are only apparent because movement is magnified in such a confined, unchanging space. Nevertheless, most movement is instinctive, and the comedic timing is brilliant with a really amusing stark difference between the two and their reactions to each other.

Mark’s world is fully encapsulated in the set, designed by Peter McKintosh. Its drab yellow walls hint at antiquity and convey a sad forgotten feeling, just like his outdated boardgames. Mark himself is not particularly anachronistic to his time, but he is socially out of place and is also living out the dreams of his past. Tim Lutkin’s lighting design is equally as effective at setting the mood and the fluorescent outline cleverly demarcates the separation between the bunker and the outside world.

Lyndsey Turner’s take on this play, leaves you with a heightened awareness of the human survival instinct and how it can manifest as a propensity for violence. The play doesn’t offer a message of hope, but therein lies its value. It leaves you in suspense wondering what the future holds for its characters and it also serves as a warning that we need to monitor our moral compass. If dark humour is your thing and you enjoy an unsettling watch with political sentiments, this is the play for you.

Playing until the 26th March,

Reviewer: Riana Howarth

Reviewed: 2nd March 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★