Ahead of reopening their doors for the first time in over six months next week, the Southwark Playhouse in London hosted a special streamed event, broadcast live from their wonderful theatre.
Before After, written by Stuart Price, is the story of Ben and Ami who meet by a tree on a beautiful hillside. She recognises him as they used to be in love but Ben has no idea who she is after suffering an accident that has left him with amnesia. As concepts go, that pulls you in straight away - a hint of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Within minutes I was intrigued and keen to find out how the show was going to play out.
Told in two different timelines - the Before, showing how Ben and Ami first met and how their relationship played out from beginning to (supposed) end, and then the After where they meet from different perspectives - one as a stranger with the other as an ex. With the two different timelines, the immediate comparison to draw is The Last Five Years. Like that show, this is a two hander, told from the perspectives of two lovers/ex-lovers. Unlike that show though, this one features both characters sharing the stage the whole time and interacting with eachother. This adds another dimension to the love story as you are immediately captured by how they play off eachother and react.
The roles are played here by real life couple Rosalie Craig and Hadley Fraser. Both incredible performers in their own right, their undeniable chemistry adds a genuine touch to the story, leading you to believe you are watching a real couple. Rosalie Craig is a powerhouse performer Having won critical acclaim for her sensational performance in the role reversed production of Company, here she shines again, with her unmistakable vocals, showcasing the conflicted emotions Ami feels through her relationship(s) with Ben. Hadley Fraser channels Ben brilliantly, easing from anger to adoration to confusion in a matter of moments. This isn't a show where you are rooting for one of them more than the other - both navigate their way into your hearts so in the end all you want is a happy ending for them both.
The show also lends itself to a "What if" scenario, creating a sort of Sliding Doors universe (or underrated Broadway show If/Then) where, rather than two alternate timelines, both are happening or have happened in real time - just in the Before and After. One of the themes of this show is second chances. Ben and Ami didn't get their happy ever after the first time around but they have now been given the chance to start over. Will they be able to get their happy ever after this time? It's the use of this theme and the ease in which you understand the concept from the get go that makes this show so instaneneous in its appeal.
With Ben not remembering Ami, forcing her to pretend this is a new relationship and not mentioning any of their history together, the show poses an ethical dilemma - if you were in this situation, what would you do? Would you come clean or would you continue with the other person being kept in the dark? Rosalie plays this dlemma perfectly, almost telling the truth on numerous occasions. The inevitable climax is as satisfying as you would hope.
The show boasts a musical accompaniment that holds up to the strength of the story and actors performing it. With music and lyrics by Stuart Price and a book and additional lyrics by Timothy Knapman, together the pair have created something truly special.
The themes of this show are displayed beautifully, with clever references of the title. Where Before After represents the two different timelines, clearly displayed alongside beautiful pictures that tie in with Ben's own artwork. Ben may not remember his history with Ami, but he manages to draw pictures capturing moments from their past he hasn't remembered yet.
Small details such as the insertion of the words into dialogue drives home the key messages of this show, with a significant line of dialogue bwetween the characters exoressing the hope and belief that what comes after is better than before.
In summary, Before After was a triumph. Sensational from start to finish - grabbing you in the opening moments and keeping you captivarting until the emotional and glorious finale. While similarities to other shows are inevitable, it really held its own by creating two characters and a world you believe and are invested in,
This particular version of the show was a rehearsed reading but I for one would love to see a fully staged production on stage at some point. If this was just the Before for this show, imagine how great the After is going to be.
Before Afer is available to stream on Saturday 27th September at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets cost £15 and are available from https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/