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James Haddrell on Before After at Southwark Playhouse

There can’t be any doubt that the pandemic was a brutal time for theatre. An industry built around the act of bringing people together in a room, theatre had to find new ways to reach out or face losing all connection with its audiences.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

Now, the tendrils of the pandemic are still affecting theatre, with altered booking patterns, audiences who have learnt new behaviours, and theatres and companies still struggling to work their way out of horrendous losses. In recent weeks a string of London’s producing theatres have described a critical position with depleted reserves and the huge ongoing financial pressures of rising costs and reducing funding.

However, there were some success stories for theatres during the pandemic, and those too reach out into current programming. For us at Greenwich, writers from our weekly online call-outs are now finding new opportunities to share their work, one of the performers from our high-profile online adaptation of Berkoff’s The Secret Love Life Of Ophelia has recently presented her own new play here in Greenwich, and collaborations forged under the pressure of COVID are now being revisited under far better conditions.

Another major success of the period was Stuart Matthew Price and Timothy Knapman’s new musical Before After. A rehearsed reading of the show streamed during lockdown reached 44 countries, causing #BeforeAfterUK to trend on Twitter, and led to calls for a fully staged version to follow. That fully staged version has now arrived at Southwark Playhouse, directed by Georgie Rankcom and starring Grace Mouat (Six) and Jacob Fowler (Heathers).

As the title suggests, the show exists in two time zones where the same couple meet, fall in love, and try to make a go of it. The only difference between the two is that Ami knows they’ve been here before, but Ben’s car accident and subsequent amnesia leaves him completely unaware of their history. If she doesn’t tell him they’ve been here before, can Ami make it work out better this time?

There’s no doubt that Fowler has a great voice, and the timing to deliver the jokes in the script, but the emotional journey is carried by Mouat, struggling to manage a conflict with her dad the first time round, and agonising over her decisions the second time.

There are some lovely moments in the show too when the past starts to bleed into Ben’s present, and there’s room for the book to allow more of that – at 90 minutes the show could be longer to allow for some of those moments between the songs to really develop.

Ultimately though, this show is a great calling card for this established writing duo. Very few small cast musicals find a long life – there aren’t many shows like Thrill Me, The Last Five Years or Tick Tick Boom – but a strong production can lead to investment, venue commitment and industry interest in what’s next – and I can’t wait to see what that might be.

Picture credit: Danny Kaan

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