Before After

When Ami meets Ben by a tree on a beautiful hillside she recognises him instantly - they were once very much in love. But Ben doesn’t remember her at all. What went so wrong? Is there a chance to fix it? And might these two lovers find their happily ever after in the end?

Georgie Rankcom directs a truthful and charming piece of theatre starring Grace Mouat and Jacob Fowler, which is apt for fans of The Last Five Years, or a previous Southwark Playhouse production - Then, Now & Next (2023). 

During the story, we follow two characters through their life in the ‘Before’ and the ‘After’, meaning we jump between both time periods regularly. This runs the risks of being unnecessarily complex and confusing, but is managed well by a collaboration from multiple creative departments. 

The first of these was Yimei Zhao’s effective costume choices, which changed as frequently as the setting did - helping us to stay on track. This was nothing too grand, and only consisted of a few jacket and jumper swaps, but it really worked in their favour. The set design was honourably minimalistic without looking low budget, and created a lovely ambiance as you entered the auditorium, which matched perfectly with the character’s outfits. 

Another impressive element was Timothy Knapman’s script, which tells the beautiful story so smoothly that the audience aren’t really given the opportunity to misunderstand. It is a graceful plot full of romance and regret - each of which fight to take top spot in the relationship we watch unfold. Unfortunately the score (by Stuart Matthew Price) that accompanies the book feels somewhat redundant, and contains songs with forgettable lyrics that could just have easily been spoken as dialogue. Although both actors are clearly talented, and perform with confidence and clarity, these songs also seem to highlight a discrepancy in their compatibility, as Fowler’s vocal presentation is much stronger than Mouat - who seems overshadowed in their few duets. 

This feeling also bleeds into the characters themselves as Ben has a noticeable progression throughout the show, and is therefore easily distinguishable from scene to scene, whereas Ami’s character lacks the same depth. Whether this is down to direction or delivery it is unclear, but it was slightly unsatisfying to watch Fowler portray such a heartfelt character arc, when this didn’t seem to be requited. 

As the space is only small, and there is always something happening on stage that demands our full attention, any particularly noticeable scenery or props would have proved to be detracting rather than complimentary and so these were few and far between. With so many larger shows relying heavily on these aspects, it was refreshing to see them used only where necessary in this production, and it made the pops of colour they did provide all the more effective. A mention must go to stage manager Orla Daly for running an overall fast-paced and exposed show so successfully. 

Lastly, Alex Musgrave and Jed Berry were the two most standout artists of all - with Musgrave’s lighting design only ever amplifying how gorgeous and well crafted Berry’s pictures are. There was cleverly utilised projection, and an array of sketches, drawings, and paintings which stayed the same despite being added to and expanded upon throughout the show, meaning they provided a constant for the audience to appreciate in what is otherwise quite a whirlwind world. 

Running at 90 minutes with no interval, this one act wonder is playing at The Southwark Playhouse Borough until the second of March - catch it if you can! 

This show was reviewed on the 9th February 2024 and runs until the 2nd March 2024.  Tickets available here: Before After - Southwark Playhouse

Review written by Katie McConnell

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Photo credit: Danny Kaan

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