Review: Before After, Southwark Playhouse

The score to new musical Before After is gorgeous but the book poses challenges at Southwark Playhouse

“What’s a few more minutes to wait”

It doesn’t seem a couple of years since I was listening to the cast recording of Before After and clamouring for a UK production (it was seven…). The Gray Area and Southwark Playhouse have finally obliged (I’m not counting their streamed lockdown version) with Georgie Rankcom directing this rom-com-with-a-quirk, albeit a quirk that raises ethical questions in line with so many others in this genre.

We start with Ami and Ben having a meet-cute on a romantic hillside, only this isn’t the first time they’ve met. They’re actually a couple who have split up but since he had a car accident which left him with amnesia, he doesn’t remember her or their relationship. So she decides to interpret this as a slate wiped clean and start all over again with him, telling herself she’ll tell him what’s up when the time is right.

I remain a fan of Stuart Matthew Price’s plaintive, string-heavy score but it does suffer a little from the lack of variation in tone across the 90 minutes here. And whilst Timothy Knapman’s book matches it for romantic swell, its contemporary setting asks a lot of the viewer, especially where Ben is concerned – is there really no social media evidence or friends or family to tell him he’s being taken for a ride, even if in the name of love.

Grace Mouat and Jacob Fowler do play their parts with conviction and charm though. Able to be unmiked in this intimate space, they sound dreamy together – he’s all adorkable nervous energy and she’s patiently determined, you do buy them together. It’s hard not to feel Rankcom could have afforded to take a few more creative risks to play up the quirky rather than the blandly cute.

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