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After the End
Published on Friday, 12 August 2011

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
6-28 Aug, 1:50pm-3:05pm
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

 Parental Guidance. Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

Louise (Helen Darbyshire) is trapped in a fallout shelter, with only her rescuer Mark (Tony McKeever) for company. There was a terrorist attack while they were arguing outside a pub, where they’d both been for some after-work drinks. Luckily Mark remained conscious and – even more luckily – he happens to have a shelter in his garden. He carried his damsel to safety, but he’s no knight in shining armour.

Dennis Kelley’s thriller quickly turns out to be more about the claustrophobic events of Louise and Mark’s spiky relationship, than the catastrophic events raining down outside. Nerdy, office-drone Mark has clearly had his eye on Louise for some time, despite her preferring the more macho Fraser; and now, what he’s always wanted is right in front of him. In fact, Mark even sees their situation more as a dream come true than as a living nightmare.

The powerplay between the couple is aided by two compelling performances. Darbyshire is excellent as the initially confident Louise, handling her breakdown subtly, while McKeever moves from pathetic to psychopathic with skin-crawling ease. But the script itself felt uneven in places; I wondered whether it had been cut down to fit the festival hour-or-so. Some sections felt rushed, and the denouement was very slow and overlong in comparison.

Perhaps because of this, some scenes seemed shaky. I wasn’t convinced that these two had really spent so long in such close confines and one or two things, like the ever-silent radio, were never fully explained.

The overall effect, however, was absorbing and smart. The plot twists were sharp and unexpected, and the aftermath believable. Mark’s delusions and frustrations that Louise couldn’t just be nice to him and ‘be herself’ were desperately convincing. And after its own end, the play feels as if its real aim was to present an alarming speculation – about just how nastily some belittled men might behave towards women, if social niceties were set aside.

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