After the End at Theatre Royal Stratford East
Dennis Kelly’s After the End is a strong play that explores the psychological thrills of being locked in a small room with a person who may or may not be stable. Granted, this is well-trodden ground – The Shining springs to mind as a variation on similar themes – but this version does a powerful job of probing particular tension-laden aspects of this predicament while combining it with characters who are more than worth examining.
The story is told from popular everywoman Louise’s (Amaka Okafor) perspective, who wakes up to find herself in an old-fashioned nuclear shelter with awkward and nerdy Mark (Nick Blood), a colleague whom she knows reasonably well. The audience is quickly confronted with the ambiguity of whether the fallout that Mark informs us about is real, or whether a more sinister motive explains Louise’s imprisonment – especially as Mark begins to destabilise increasingly. This suspense is maintained until the final moments and never ceases to raise the stakes.
The play is at its most potent when it displays the tensions between its two main characters, and both Okafor and Blood deliver powerful and believable portrayals that serve to highlight the flaws in both characters. They are supported by Lyndsey Turner’s strong production, incorporating a beautifully claustrophobic set design by Peter McKintosh and psychedelic sounds by Tingying Dong that are astonishingly apt in creating an unnerving atmosphere.
While the premise itself isn’t particularly original, there are good reasons why it is so popular: the fear of being locked in a tight space with an unstable person is a fascinating topic. It takes some finesse to make it still feel fresh, and in those terms After the End succeeds completely. It’s simply a well-put-together show with great production and accomplished acting that hooks from start to finish.
After the End is at Theatre Royal Stratford East from 25th February until 26th March 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.