After the End
Troublehouse Theatre Company
Joshua Brooks Pub, Manchester
This is a taut new production from Troublehouse Theatre which had a hit with Chris O'Connell’s RAW last year.
The premise in Dennis Kelly’s menacing one-acter from 2005 is that two work colleagues who don’t know each other all that well are forced to take refuge in an old wartime shelter conveniently attached to one’s home after a terrorist nuclear explosion.
Mark is the office nerd who regards his work in reprographics as tedious but lucrative. He reassures Louise that he’s going to take care of them both in his cell-like bunker. There is a real tension between them as Louise clearly doesn’t want to have to spend time with this misfit and Mark is constantly trying to assert his authority mostly through words with varying degrees of success.
There are various shifts in the power balance between them as they verbally spar and squabble over food. Mark talks very fast and is a bit socially phobic and nerd-like. He would clearly never in a million years get anywhere near someone like Louise but he tries to control and take advantage of the situation.
Eventually the tension spills over into carefully choreographed, but very difficult to watch all the same, sexual violence. Rick Bithell as Mark has gone from playing a gang victim in RAW to this self-centred but hugely defeated failure. His Mark tries to connect with Louise played by Susan Robinson but just hasn’t the social skills to do so.
Susan was a convincing elder sister in RAW. Both she and Rick give completely committed performances. They are always believable even if sometimes the scenario is a little melodramatic. This reviewer was put in mind of The Collector by John Fowles which predates this work and also Room which is from a decade or so later. Susan is at her most compelling when she’s despairing and all her fight has gone. Rick is most effective and menacing when he’s doing one of his long rambling and repetitive nerdy monologues and the audience just wants him to be quiet and show some empathy which he cannot.
This is a very slick revival in the very small space of Joshua Brooks pub. The pub has had a refit but the theatre below is as was with minimal facility but enough space for two strong performers to show what they can do. It works very well as a basement stands in for a basement.
The only major criticism is of the piece, which sometimes feels a little contrived and perhaps the Louise character is a bit underwritten. The epilogue is also unconvincing but not because of the actors. It’s just unrealistic to portray any dysfunctional bond continuing, Stockholm Syndrome not withstanding. It is dramatically superfluous though skilfully written to give Louise the major part in contrast to what has gone before.
The stand-out sequence is when Mark has finally managed to cajole Louise to join in the Dungeons and Dragons game with which he is obsessed and she turns it round on him and changes it into a means to sexually tease him. Though the violence which ensues is very grim and difficult to witness, it is very well realised.
This is a strong production with very good use of pulsing synthesised music reminiscent in a good way of the pre-reboot Dr Who style. The tension is maintained for the most part and the pacing is very good.
This reviewer looks forward to the next play they mount and is grateful for the cushion the venue has helpfully supplied to all members of the audience on the otherwise harsh seating.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards