Monday, 7 March 2022

REVIEW: After the End at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

With tragic events unfolding in Ukraine, there is something deeply prophetic in this new production of Dennis Kelly’s play depicting a city under nuclear attack. The threat of nuclear warfare has hitherto been confined to the history books; those old enough will recall chilling public information films advising what people should do in the event of an attack. The spectre of a new cold war gives this play a grim resonance, and is a bitter reminder of the parlous state in which civilisation finds itself. So how do two survivors cope in the aftermath; more importantly how do they cope with each other?

Two workmates find themselves in a fallout shelter; it is a morning after the night before of epic proportions. Louise (Amaka Okafor) has a vague memory of being in the pub with Mark (Nick Blood). Gradually their recollections slowly take shape and begin to make more sense. Mark had rescued Louise from the epicentre of the attack and taken refuge in the fallout shelter attached to his flat. They have water, rations, a radio and a camping stove to last two weeks underground, after which they can safely emerge from their incarceration. A shelter with two bunk beds soon loses its charm as the pair gradually get under each other’s skins. Bubbling tensions race to the surface as water-cooler moments in the office begin to take on an entirely new dimension.

A brilliant set designed by Peter McKintosh immediately comes to the fore as a claustrophobic feel is framed by white neon lighting marking the shelter’s outline. The set smartly fades to black as each scene completes and the next instalment begins. Over the course of 100 minutes, we learn much more about the protagonists. Mark is the office nerd and desperate to be liked; while Louise is sociable with an easy-going charm and liked by everyone. The narrative slowly but surely builds the character profiles from their relationship as workmates. 

After the End is a slick and well-written piece capturing how two people cope at such close quarters and contemplate the destruction taking place above their heads. As the play hurtles towards its conclusion, the audience can take nothing for granted as the characters’ motivation will twist and turn. There are some highly charged exchanges as Louise reacts to the more obsessive aspects of Mark’s behaviour. A highly intelligent script presents angst and panic laced with a generous helping of screwball humour. Overall, an excellent two-hander that holds the attention with consummate ease. 

Review by Brian Penn

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls F11 | Price of Ticket: £32/£12.50 concessions

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