After the Ball
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Reviewed – 9th March 2018
” attempts to deal with some intriguing themes but unfortunately falls short”
Upstairs at the Gatehouse is one of London’s historic fringe theatre venues that exude a strong community spirit inside. The Gatehouse, within which the theatre is located, is steeped in local history and it seems only right that it should house a play focused upon the passage of time and memories such as Ian Grant’s After the Ball.
The story follows William (Stuart Fox) and Blanche (Julia Watson) spanning sixty years, starting in 1914 in the moments just before the outbreak of WW1 and ending in 1971. Its emphasis is upon the ways in which we take responsibility for our individual actions and, consequently, how this affects those around us.
The roles within After the Ball are purposely written for older actors by Grant who believes that not only does it offer the challenge of playing a variety of ages, but also provides substantial new material for ageing actors which is often lacking in modern theatre today. Therefore it is rather intriguing to see both actors constantly transition as the story moves backwards and forwards in time throughout. Aside from this characterisation, the costume design is the greatest indicator of which time period each scene is set in. As each character is introduced throughout the story, they bear the clothing of that particular time. However, this was not consistent towards the end of the play as their daughter, Joyce, appears in a variety of period costumes whereas the remainder of the cast do not.
Whilst the plot revolves around William and Blanche’s relationship over time, it seems the story is much more focused on William’s journey and often asks for the audience to sympathise with his emotional turbulence. William is presented as a four-dimensional character as we learn to understand the reasoning behind his mistakes throughout life. Unfortunately this was not the case for the characterisation of Blanche that at times felt superficial.
Memory is the headlining theme of After the Ball and this is most evident in the creative set (Natalie Pryce) and sound design (Chris Drohan). The soundscapes often blended into one another, as did the minimal set which frequently reminds one of searching into their memories, and the ways in which we can manipulate our memories over time.
After the Ball attempts to deal with some intriguing themes but unfortunately falls short through its execution on stage. Whilst the idea of centring the play around two older actors playing a variety of ages is refreshing, it was sometimes unclear as to which specific point in the timeline the scene was taking place. Additionally the story pays too much attention to the male struggles during wartime, and places less upon those of the female characters.
Reviewed by Claire Minnitt
Photography by Mitzi de Margary
After the Ball
Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 24th March