Picture the scene, a tree stands atop a beautiful hillside, the sun is setting, it’s a place you’ve finally gone back to after time away, and standing there is a person who you used to go there with, someone you haven’t seen in years, someone special to you. You recognise them straight away, but they look back at you and have no idea who you are. What would you do? Well, that’s exactly the situation faced by Ami in new musical Before After, staged as a read through production at the Southwark Playhouse and streamed live into our homes. A decision to revisit the tree on the hill brings her face to face with Ben, a man she was once very much in love with. But he doesn’t remember her, doesn’t remember their past together. The Ben she knew is gone, can she find him again?
In a world full of social distancing, support bubbles and many hoops to jump through to get anything to work in a secure fashion, theatre is continuing to find ways to make live performance happen. In this performance of Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman’s Before After, real life married couple (in their own little bubble) Rosalie Craig (Company, City of Angels) and Hadley Fraser (Young Frankenstein, City of Angels) play Ami and Ben, two very different characters once in love and brought back together after time apart. With on point vocals throughout, drifting through the flowing melodies with ease, it was beautiful and hypnotising in both its storytelling and simplicity.
Over the last couple of years, I have been fortunate enough to see Rosalie Craig leading the recent gender swapped production of Company as Bobbi and to see Hadley Fraser as Frederick in the hilarious Young Frankenstein, and can remember being blown away by both of them. Both have such great stage presence, such ability to make their characters 100% believable and such perfect vocals that just appear to soar to the rafters. And even through a computer screen, everything I thought when seeing these talented performers in the flesh is still true. Even with just the two of them, positioned behind music stands in a nearly empty space, everything about the performance is polished, clean and stage ready. Fraser brings a great deal of comedy to the energetic Ben, throwing in a few funny voices with every emotion clear in his facial expressions and Craig can say so much without saying anything at all.
Ami and Ben are both complicated, each with their own little quirks. Ami can’t seem to help but fit into that posh girl ideal, prim, proper, with a good job and a father that checks in on her at every given opportunity, so much so that she worries that he will never approve of any guy she chooses, especially someone like Ben. He is her opposite, easy going, free spirited, a little bit of a dreamer. He’s an artist who is too afraid to show his work, she’s a gallery owner who believes in him. And that’s all before everything changes. When they meet again, he’s different, a shadow of what he was before. He doesn’t remember the things in his sketches, can’t place the images in his memory. But there’s something about Ami and when a relationship between them blossoms once more, it’s up to her to choose if after is better than before, if truth is better than memory, if they can make it work again.
In this two person show, highlighting the ups and downs of relationships affected and torn apart by difficult lifestyles and circumstances, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. Both shows jump back and forth in time, jump to different points in the relationship. Where The Last Five Years skips from the beginning to the end of Cathy and Jamie’s relationship, Before After flips back and forth between before and after Ben’s memory loss. Some beautifully charming illustrations are used here to split the scenes and help us to follow the timing of each snippet, but even so it did get a little bit confusing at times with the time zones switching at the drop of a hat. Nevertheless, you cannot help but be swept away in the story and wish them well. You want to see them find a happy ending, want to see them succeed.
The music is beautiful throughout, with particular highlights being ‘As Long As You’re There’, ‘This Time’ and ‘Before After’. You cannot fault the vocals, and the music flows so nicely through the story, it all feels effortless and allows for you to become completely involved in the storytelling. With just the two performers in the quiet empty space, it’s the storytelling and the music that truly takes the spotlight. I truly feel that this is a show that could really grow into something wonderful if given the opportunity for a fully staged production. And let’s face it, in the current circumstances, a show that only requires two people could do very well. Just look at the recent success of The Last Five Years.