After The End

Edgy and provocative psychological drama from Prime Cut Productions

Bleary eyed, barely able to comprehend what she’s been told, Louise stammers, 'Tell me again. Tell me again.'

Mark, the office geek, recounts the events of the night before. He heroically carried her through the burning city as it crumbled from an apparent nuclear attack.

Trapped together in his bunker they must wait and hope for rescue. Can they survive each passing day? Can they survive each other?

Following a nomination at the Irish Theatre Awards for Scenes From The Big Picture, Prime Cut Productions' After The End should win over all but the harshest of critics. It's a powerful, gripping drama from a theatre company that's going from strength to strength.

Like Harold Pinter and David Hare, playwright Dennis Kelly presents the audience with a play of ideas, where the personal relationships reflect political reality. The conversations and shifting power dynamic between the reactionary Mark and the initially liberal Louise, provide an accurate analogy for western society and the post-9/11 climate of fear.

Will Irvine (The Final Words of Thomas Russell) brings much to bear in his portrayal of the passive/aggressive Mark. The character could so easily have come across as one dimensional, a needy nerd with a fondness for Dungeons & Dragons.

Irvine, however, helps the audience sympathise with Mark, emphasising his awkwardness and playing up the inappropriate humour before his feelings for Louise (Katy Ducker) take on increasingly sinister overtones.

Similarly, Emma Jordan, making her directorial debut, uses the lightest touch to help the play’s tone shift towards a suffocating claustrophobia whilst never allowing any shards of Kelly’s dark humour to detract from the tension.

The action takes place on David Craig’s raised circular stage. This concrete island accentuates the isolation of the pair whilst also hinting at the circle of violence which has lead to this situation. It also suggests that even if the protagonists leave this bunker, they will always be here, trapped in the mindset.

Ciaran Bagnall’s lighting design adds greater depth to this blistering drama. As the pale light fails to fend off the creeping shadows which plunge the couple into darkness this intensifies the desperation of the situation.

It also suggests they couple are also trapped in a midnight of the soul where no moral reference points can be found.

The effect is claustrophobic and as you wonder about the nuclear winter the couple may face beyond the hatch, you cannot escape the feeling of being trapped with them in the strange dungeon.

This powerful production is given greater weight by stunning performances. It’s hard to believe that Katy Ducker is still studying drama at university.

Her performance seems effortless and natural. In later scenes, as Louise’s situation becomes more grim, she displays such mettle and intensity.

It is a subtle, forceful and nuanced  performance - one of the most remarkable I have seen. Katy Ducker is a name to watch out for.

After the End, though, is not a comfortable sit. There are scenes of violence which are difficult to witness, no doubt no easier for the actors to simulate.

However, this is an edgy, urgent drama, blisteringly brutal and deeply relevant to the world we live in. With black humour and exciting performances from a brave cast, it will haunt you for a very long time.

After the End plays at the Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast, until February 9. Box Office: 02890 235053.