11 March 2018 (released)
11 March 2018
Spanning sixty years and two catastrophic world wars, Ian Grant's new play 'After the Ball' directed by Nadia Papachronopoulou is hugely ambitious as a piece of theatre. Packed with vivid characters and social and political themes, it follows the lives of a South London Family over sixty years from 1914 to 1971.
William and Blanche are introduced by friends. After a short courtship where quiet living Blanche is set alight by Williams political activism, they marry. All too soon for Blanche, William signs up and leaves her to fight for his country in Belgium while she gives birth to their daughter, Joyce alone. And that's just in the first year. You'd be forgiven for thinking it sounds more like a novel…
Six actors play nine characters between them. It's fascinating to see the characters develop and the decisions they make come back to haunt them as one generation leads to the next. Whilst playing multiple roles is pretty standard in theatre, for one actor to play the same character from their twenties to their eighties is pretty hard to pull off without prosthetics or make-up, in an otherwise naturalistic set up. Watching older actors playing their naive, young selves does feel slightly awkward at first. But Stuart Fox and Julia Watson who play William and Blanche fully inhabit their many stages of life roles and it doesn't take too long to accept the conceit.
Grant's female characters are particularly strong and there is a resounding message that we are all responsible for our own actions. In 1914 when the play begins women didn't even have the vote and when it ends in the seventies, William and Blanche's daughter, Joyce Randall, played with bite and energy by Emily Tucker has a career in politics and chooses not to have children. There are no victims here as everyone has the opportunity to make choices and fight for change. When Blanche tries to assume the role of victim she is held to account by her strong female friend, Margery.
Designer, Natalie Price had perhaps the greatest challenge of all as locations within south London, the Belgian countryside, on a farm and mid battle as well as a nursing home on the coast. Whilst the space is used well, the design lacks inspiration, relying on 'naturalistic' sound affects and period costumes to place us. Given the enormous scope of the narrative, there is much to admire, both thematically and in terms of character but ultimately the whole doesn't quite reflect the sum of its parts.