Among all the live streamed theatre content, Zoom performances and pre-recorded video material that is on the internet there doesn’t seem to have been that much room for rehearsed readings and workshop performances. Redressing this balance somewhat was Before After which was live streamed just three times from the Southwark Playhouse and billed as a “rehearsed reading” given by real life partners Rosalie Craig and Hadley Fraser. As an intense two hander this was a perfect choice as it needed a duo who could absolutely connect. The fact that they were able to do so within the same space was a definite bonus.
The storyline is straight out of the school of Richard Curtis and I hasten to add that I’m not saying that in a pejorative way. Ami and Ben meet on a hill and start a relationship and we watch as things develop along expected lines. However, it soon becomes clear that they have met before; following a loss of memory Ben does not remember Ami, though Ami clearly remembers Ben. The narrative flits between the past (before) and the present (after) and we therefore see the relationships developing twice in parallel. Ami cannot bring herself to tell Ben the truth about their previous lives and this leads to tensions. By the time we reach the end, the truth about Ben’s amnesia will be revealed and the future of the couple’s relationship will become clear.
In a straight reading this scenario had the potential to be very confusing but the production cleverly got round this by the use of delightfully illustrated cue cards which popped up between scenes. As Ben is an artist and Ami becomes a gallery owner this was also an appropriate nod to their working lives and avoided the need for clumsy narration. I was intrigued as to how a fully staged version might have got round these transitions as the need to change sets and costumes would have posed a challenge. In some senses the constrictions of a reading worked to the production’s advantage and director Matthew Rankcom was able to concentrate on some cracking dialogue and cleverly constructed songs from talented show creators Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman.
Not that this was just a simple reading; as it is a musical there is the small matter of some twenty numbers to put across and these, if nothing else, must have required a great deal of practice for performers and musicians. Charlie Ingles (MD/Keys), Alex Crawford (Guitars) and Natalie Hancock (Cello) provided a rich backdrop against which the mega-talented Craig and Fraser could work. Both performers were in fine voice and seemed totally at ease with the material. There were some soaring vocals in both the duets and solo numbers with some of them in the second half reaching particular heights of emotion. There were moments of Sondheim and moments of Lloyd Webber; however, I didn’t really detect a killer tune which would bear repetition out of the context of the show itself. I think Before After perhaps suffered slightly in comparison from seeing the more fully staged musical Romantics Anonymous the night before. Given that the two shows were rather different animals and the ambitions for them were not similar I perhaps shouldn’t make comparison.
In any case, two romantic musicals on successive days is not something which I would normally contemplate attending but as both were only on for short runs, the bullet was there to be bitten. And to be fair I did enjoy both performances in their different ways, even if the genre would not normally be a first choice. Interestingly both pieces are not new and have been reworked from earlier material first presented in the last five years. I wonder what will emerge post lockdown to take the British musical forward. Perhaps an update of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel might be in order – Love In The Time Of Covid, anyone?
Before After was streamed from The Southwark Playhouse for just three performances. To see the venues other streamed offerings click here
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