BWW Review: AFTER PARTY, Pleasance Theatre
It wasn't just the twenty-somethings on stage that reminded me of my time chairing Examination Boards in a university a decade or so in the past. Rarely, but more than once, I came across a student whose module profile bounced between the 2.2 standard and the First standard. Inevitably, they averaged out as a 2.1 and that's the degree we awarded, but I was uneasy because the one thing they were not producing was work of the 2.1 standard.
Wildcard's After Party veers between outstanding acting and writing worthy of five stars and somewhat banal philosophising and three star stilted dialogue that sucks the air out of the piece - and not much in between. So four stars it is, but with a tighter focus and twenty minutes or so cut, this production could stand alongside Philip Ridley's more searing indictments of contemporary life. There is, it's fair to say, more potential than achievement in this young company just now, but that's as much a statement about the former as the latter.
James Meteyard's ensemble work pitches us straight into Bethany's birthday party - music, shots, drugs, hugs and stained rugs - before the partygoers wake up, hungover but, as you can at that age, ready for another swig at the bottle and another pill to help things along. Slowly, we learn that something dreadful happened a few years ago and that the tensions so caused are bubbling to the surface now that the mysterious Max is to be released from prison. Things are heading for a showdown and that's exactly what we get, nearly two unbroken hours later.
There is some splendid work on show here. Megan Pemberton's bottled up, sensible Phoebe enjoys a lovely scene with oddball non-conforming Allan, charmingly played by Atilla Akinci. Eleanor Crosswell makes her middle class Misha strong, but vulnerable, gradually opening up - but probably to the wrong guy. And, after a build-up that I felt couldn't possibly be matched by the reality, Callum Cameron's damaged Max is a compelling presence, all testosterone fuelled, pent-up anger, a big man with the will to use his physical presence and cunning mind to get what he wants. It's little more than a cameo, but the whole play would collapse were Cameron less than perfect for the role - fortunately, he is.
But there are too many characters and too many plotlines to hold comfortably in one head for all that time. I lost track of who was in love with whom, who used to be in love with whom and who was only pretending to be in love with whom - I think anyone would. There are also long monologues of philosophical musings which sound like someone might just write them in a diary or blog, but never actually speak them. And (something I know I am acutely sensitive to on stage) characters too often tell us what they are thinking instead of showing us - or, better still, just trusting us because we've worked it out, the temptation of exposition proving too much. So there's your twenty minutes of cuts right there!
If that all sounds like damning with faint praise and a teensy-weensy bit condescending, it's not my intention, since there is plenty of really good stuff here. The lives we see are those lived today in London by people just like the actors portraying them - give or take a line or two. Theatre needs productions as immediate as this one to avoid the prospect of presenting work on a continuous loop to white men aged 53 who once chaired Exam Boards. Plays like this (and there are nowhere near enough of them) are the future of the art on both sides of the fourth wall and, if Wildcard can persevere with the sheer slog of getting things up, they will only improve.
And I look forward to seeing them make that journey.
Photo Isaac Whittingham