“We Could Have A Conversation…”

01/07/2012 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

AFTER THE END
presented by pantsguys Productions, TAP Gallery, June 2012

The old writing adage of ‘putting ordinary people in extraordinary situations’ resonates with this play, based around the simple precept of two colleagues trapped in a nuclear fallout shelter having barely escaped some cataclysm on the outside. They’re friends, but not close friends; as in ‘liked but not well-liked’. What better way to get to know someone than being trapped in a post-apocalyptic concrete box? And so in shades of Sartre’s No Exit the awkwardness begins to take its toll. But there is a lot more to it than that. The humour underpins and opens up a rich vein of social commentary around the absurdity of social mores – further enabled by the immediate dislocation of Mark & Louise’s horrific circumstance. Playwright Dennis Kelly’s use of the end-of-the-world trope thankfully embraces the situation as more than a convenient exercise in putting his odd-couple archetypes in a bitingly funny bottle-episode. There’s metaphoric intent as well – without giving up any gags the heightened melodrama of the apocalypse outside betrays the ludicrous pettiness of the sniping, bickering pair underneath. There’s also a darker shade at play, with the duo embodying a microcosm of society’s remnants, clinging to memories and attitudes that serve no function other than to momentarily distract from the hopelessness of their predicament.

These attitudes are what define us as a civilisation, for when bricks and mortar turn to dust it’s the belief systems and social politics that endure. Kelly’s dialogue touches on race, religion, utopian thought and more – not heavy handedly but enough to betray how single-mindedness is kind of inane, especially when everybody else is dead. Power? what’s the point? Food and water? Natural resources running scarce? Let’s talk about this… but as a society, we don’t talk about this now (not really) and old habits run free, or something. It’s a bleak, wry comment about who-do-we-think-we-are; and very funny. From the opening scene we can empathise as Louise recoils from the horror of losing everything by grasping at the life she had just hours before. She’s in shock, who wouldn’t be – but as the vestiges of life-before-the-bomb carry through the comedy turns into a gripping parable of a society suffering from acute lack of self-awareness.

All of this makes for a fascinating sociological case-study, but for the extraordinary work done by the two performers it burgeons into so much more. This is the acting equivalent of deep sea free-diving; almost two hours on stage with ramping intensity, the result as good as or better than anything we’ve seen lately at the mainstage companies. Mark is a study in the repressed modern male ego, alienated by his desires and clinging to his ‘nice-guy’ victim role like a psychological life-preserver. You would be forgiven at moments for wanting to walk onto the stage and thump him; such is the understated impact of the performances. Louise traverses her emotional rollercoaster with poise and selfless courage, balancing the cynicism of her naive privileged pride with genuine grief, fear and humility. They are given over to the roles, they are completed characters, in discovery of themselves as the play unfolds. As the veneer of civilisation slips just a bit further away with every scene, as do their layers, until the intensity of solitude and imprisonment leaves nothing but the truth about who they really are. It’s astonishing, inspiring stuff. I went in exhausted, slightly cranky and hollow, the typical resistant audience member; nearly two hours later, I didn’t want it to end. This is performance. Go and see this play. Go and see this play.

AFTER THE END, by Dennis Kelly, directed by Felicity Nicol, featuring Rebecca Martin and Drew Wilson. playing at the TAP Gallery until July 14th.

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Entry filed under: Inside Theatre REVIEWS, Sydney THEATRE. Tags: , , , , , .

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VICTOR SANCZ vassanc [AT] gmail.com

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