A work night out turns to disaster following an explosion of both words and warheads. An alleged terrorist nuclear bomb has taken out part of the city but colleagues Mark and Louise fortuitously escaped the blast. That’s according to Mark. Louise can’t remember the horrific explosion that has left most of their office friends dead. Luckily for them Mark happens to have an old cold war bunker beneath the garden of his flat, which he keeps well stocked for impending nuclear disasters. Now they must bide their time before they leave the safety of the bunker. Awkward and nerdy Mark struggles to keep his true feelings for Louise hidden but as these spill forth so do other, darker emotions. As the atmosphere changes both above and below ground Mark and Louise face forces that neither of them had imagined.
Vile Bodies, in association with Loft Productions, present After the End, a disturbing but sometimes darkly comic story about two people in dire circumstances. Mark (Paul Livingstone) provides a lot of humour through his awkwardness at the beginning of this two hander play as he tries but fails to impress his colleague Louise (Maria Guiver). Their chemistry, or lack thereof, feels natural from the start and it is quickly established that they have very different ideas about their friendship. Thrown into an unthinkable situation it isn’t long before their true selves begin to emerge.
Under the direction of Emily Foran both actors give solid performances, pushing their characters through a series of changes that heightens to breaking point. The momentum is rapid and the quickly changing dynamic between the characters is palpable. Two particularly heart pounding scenes, which have little to no dialogue, are testament to the the actors’ ability as well as physical dexterity.
The bunker itself is a minimalist design (Jack Scullion) and although it is mostly a frame it fills the space and is oddly oppressive. The concrete colours and rib like structure add to the claustrophobic feeling while also evoking lessons learnt from Jonah and The Whale. Geiger counter sounds and static fill the space between scenes and, complemented by precise lighting, these effects tie the piece neatly together.
After the End disturbs and challenges the audience through its powerful content. While this is an intriguing production that shines with its own merits it is difficult to watch at times due to its dark themes and concepts. A little on the lengthy side at just over 100 minutes, the final scene is arguably unnecessary and detracts rather than adds to the overall piece. None the less, this is more than balanced out with nail biting scenes and thrilling performances.
Written in 2005, the same year as the London Bombings and only a few years after the September 11 attack, After the End has aged incredibly well. Other global attacks in the intervening years, which or may not have increased the actual risk of terrorism, have fed into the fear around anything that is different. It is this fear that is played out frequently in the media and has created a world even more divided between us and them. These concepts are skillfully detailed in this production. Beyond the overtly political, After the End deftly deals with abuse across the spectrum and it’s impossible not think of the recent revelations that have stemmed from the Me Too movement.
After the End is as pertinent now as ever and with the benefit of hindsight it was incredibly prescient. It shows us that the more imminent dangers are far closer to home and tend to dwell nearby, if not within. Facing this harsh reality is often the only way to overcome it, and After the End does just that.
Please note this production contains strong language, full frontal nudity, scenes of a violent nature, scenes of sexual violence and flashing lights.
Writer: Dennis Kelly
Director: Emily Foran
Set & Costume Design: Jack Scullion
Lighting Design: Cillian McNamara
Sound Design: Derek Conaghy
Graphic Design: Ste Murray
Photo Credit: Keith Dixon, taken during the original run of After the End, produced by The Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art at Trinity College Dublin in 2016.