Europe After the Rain
Mercury Theatre Colchester
Reviewed – 31st May 2018
“It’s not often a politically charged work of this type can feel so fluid and familiar and uninvasive to watch”
Europe After The Rain takes place in the sandbox of the soul that is generic Angry-Working-Class-Man Will’s back garden, in the aftermath of a world overturned by the withdrawal of the US from NATO and an impending British election. There is no escaping the comment on contemporary events and populist politics throughout this play – Brexit, privilege, rabid nationalism and Millennials vs Generation X angst are all here in buckets without much effort to disguise them. This could be dull, predictable even, but the movements of the characters through some touching confessions and conflicts pulls the narrative along nicely without becoming too dooming or preachy.
It is a skilful effort from writer Oliver Bennett to have pulled this off without falling into the realms of bleak end-of-the-world melodrama and despite touching on many political elements there is not really a sense that he is trying to influence your opinion on all these matters either way. There is a great sense of observation throughout, that one is watching an evolving event from several angles without needing to take a side, wave a flag or howl in despair. In fact, it is very funny on occasions, highlighting the foibles of modern British living with some astutely observed character based comedy.
Irritating, emotionally sketchy visitor Max (Simon Haines) in particular is perhaps a slightly too on-point embodiment of the worn down, over thinking thirty-something in severe danger of getting married to a boring desk job before being able to save the world from itself. Haines is engaging and full on, with a (hopefully) intentionally awkward performance that makes uncomfortable watching to begin with as he descends from being a bit weird, to rather tragically lost and insecure. James Alexandrou fits nicely into the character of Will – angry but needy, caring but entitled and progressively haunted by his own clumsy attempts to maintain his relationship with Yana (Anna Koval). Koval also does a great job as a surprising, and at times incredibly amusing, woman trying to get on with her present life as the men around her seem hellbent on focusing on either the horrors of the past or even bigger horrors of their imagined immediate future. There is a great contrast in the doom of the men waiting for what is to happen and the cheery abandon of Yana as she does her best to make things change for herself, no matter how small that change might be.
All in all, when the action is over it’s probably Marta you want to sneak off to the pub with afterwards. Natasha Kafka is the more understated of the players, taking on teenager Marta with a quiet confidence and increasing frustration throughout. It is a great performance from Kafka, allowing the audience again, through the strength of the writing, to enjoy and sympathise with the character regardless of how you feel about the social statement of powerless youth she represents on the stage. It really is the perfect example of a small ensemble cast without anyone particularly outshining the others, instead blending together comfortably to really make the action on stage work. It could quite easily have descended into a bit of a shouty drama (and there’s plenty of raised voices) but director Cara Nolan appears to have avoided this by keeping a sense of softness throughout the production despite the reasonably bleak subject matter.
The set is fairly sparse, and perfectly suited to the studio staging that I attended – namely a giant sand pit with some light interchangeable props. It is perhaps striking in its dullness, though this gives the chance for the audience to imagine that this illusion of the holiday beach could actually be any back garden outside of London – that these people could be anywhere facing these tribulations of love, loss, identity and self possession in a hard and inconsistent world. Indeed, they could be any one of us. The simple set and lack of flashy sound or lighting effects give it a comfortable flow despite the hefty themes at work in the foreground.
The real winning point, for me, is that at the time it feels like a simple, honest portrayal of four random and sympathetic human beings kicking around on a beach over a rough twenty four hours. The harder points in the background of the play – the painful legacy of being part of a democracy that makes inhumane decisions or the vanity tied up with Being A Good Person – don’t really hit you until afterwards. In fact it took me and my theatre buddy until some hours later to come to realise the meaning of a fairly massive point of the play, which I wont spoil here, and I think this is wonderful. It’s not often a politically charged work of this type can feel so fluid and familiar and uninvasive to watch.
Reviewed by Jenna Barton
Photography by Robert Day
Europe After the Rain
Mercury Theatre Colchester until 9th June
Previously reviewed at this venue