After the End
We're in the kind of room where Jack Bauer tortures enemy agents. Concrete walls. Featureless surfaces. No windows. Stark shadows. Bleak directional light. Fearsome rumbling soundtrack.
And when Emma Faulkner's staging of Dennis Kelly's After the End is at its most gripping, it is not Kiefer Sutherland in the role of stony-eyed interrogator but Helen Darbyshire. So intense is the actor's gaze, so vicious her temperament, she scarcely needs the knife with which she threatens Tony McGeever's Mark, her fellow occupant in this nuclear shelter (actually a storage room behind the main theatre).
From the very start, finding herself in the bunker that Mark fortuitously has in his garden just as terrorists strike, she is the stronger partner. She is grateful her work colleague has rescued her from the apocalypse outside and accepting of his hospitality, but she is no push-over. She stands her ground, and the more he attempts to live out his unfulfilled teenage fantasies, the more ferociously resilient she becomes.
It's an arresting display and one that throws into relief the relative colourlessness of McGeever's performance. With too little tonal variation, he is neither the Dungeons-and-Dragons geek nor the white supremacist sociopath the part suggests, but something less distinct in between.
The key moments in the early part of the performance are not clearly enough underscored, robbing the play of its dark humour and making it harder to work out what kind of battle of the sexes this is. As the tension escalates, the production does find a tremendous claustrophobic force, but the journey of discovery is all Darbyshire's. Once the pressure drops, it is less obvious than in, for example, the recent Citizens production what the conflict has been about.
© Mark Fisher 2011
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