With all its effortful but pointless violence, Dennis Kelly’s After the End leaves me cold at the Theatre Royal Stratford East
Baked beans with sausages
Whether its a legacy of the pandemic and lockdown economics or not, there does seem to be a case of theatres rooting around in playwrights’ canons for short two-handers. Southwark Playhouse have just done it with David Mamet (for their sins) and now Theatre Royal Stratford East have blown the dust off Dennis Kelly’s collected works in the same vein.
And as with The Woods, there’s a slight sense, for me at least,that After the End isn’t quite worth the revival. I’ve always had a slightly uneven relationship with Kelly’s works (for every Girls and Boys a Ritual Slaughter…, for every Matilda some weeping gods). Watching this, I was left wondering what people ever saw in its too-artificial construct and predilection towards artless violence.
Mark and Louise are work colleagues who have just survived a nuclear event. Or have they? It just so happens that Mark has a fallout shelter at the end of his garden and since everyone was in the pub, Mark was able to save Louise. We soon get the gist though that not everything is on the level and thus a truly troubling scenario emerges with a horrific imbalance of power at play.
Lyndsey Turner’s production doesn’t stint on the violence here but it’s hard to see what is being achieved. Nick Blood’s Mark embodies what we now call toxic masculinity but without any complexity. And Amaka Okafor’s Louise suffers from being a dramatic device too often, whether reacting to Mark’s fuckery or in an awkwardly wrangled final scene sees Kelly undermining what he’s just spent over an hour doing. Not for me I’m afraid.