Review: ★★★ After The Ball, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Review: ★★★ After The Ball, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

A play less about the war itself and more about the issues and emotions it generates, Ian Grant’s AFTER THE BALL, isn’t your typical period piece. Spanning almost 60 years (1914-1971), it follows the story of Blanche & William Randall (Julia Watson & Stuart Fox, respectively), a married couple whose lives are changed forever by the Great War.

From being greeted both by the charming swing music of the 20’s & 30’s and by John Lennon’s politicised Imagine, AFTER THE BALL aims to offer a fresh take on the war genre; mixing tradition with modern interpretation. This concept is reflected not only in the choice of venue (Upstairs at The Gatehouse- an historical building that stages new writing), but also through complex female characters (a rarity in most war dramas), and a set design that merges the abstract with the traditional. Designer Natalie Pryce uses a combination of old oak furniture and harsh steel framework. The former acting as a symbol for the past, representing the warm, home comforts of family life and the latter symbolic of the future and the growth of the cold industrial market.

Many of the cast play multiple roles, a testimony to their talent, and Watson & Fox each play their character from their early 20’s through to their late 70’s, which is no mean feat. It’s great to see Blanche go from a naive, shy girl into a more self-assured woman, a transition made with remarkable ease by Watson. Fox’s character plays the antithesis, going from a confident young man at the start of the piece to a frail, helpless figure at the end. The young Blanche/old William and vice versa, almost becoming mirror images of each other. Overall, the cast do a great job despite elements of a presentational style occasionally rearing its head during the more dramatic scenes. Chris Drohan’s sound and George Bach’s lighting help separate the emotional leaps in time and place, as does the costume design from Pryce; the differences in fashion allowing the audience to differentiate between the streets of South London and the countryside of Belgium.

One of the problems with After The Ball is that the main protagonist, William Randall, is on the whole a rather unlikeable character. He is a selfish man, who although claiming to be a feminist, in reality is all mouth and no trousers, and never gives the women in his life the full respect they deserve. It’s hard to connect, not only with the man himself but also with the various relationships he forges. Although his connection with Blanche forms the main story arch of the piece, a much more endearing relationship is that of mother Blanche and daughter Joyce (played by the wonderful Emily Tucker). Two women who can be achingly similar in one moment and starkly contrasting in the next.

The final scenes are powerful and staged perfectly by Nadia Papachronopoulou. As it returns full circle, the cycle begins again – every action has a consequence.

Chloe Hoey

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