After The End @ Bush Theatre, London

cast list
Tom Brooke
Kerry Condon

written by
Dennis Kelly

directed by
Roxana Silbert

There’s been a terrorist attack. A big one; nuclear. The body count is high and there’s a cloud of radioactive dust to contend with. But Mark and his work colleague Louise are safe; his friends may have thought he was paranoid in the past but when it finally happened he knew what to do. There was an old bomb shelter at the back of his flat and he’s kept it stocked, kept it ready. Now all he and Louise have to do is wait.

As nervy, nerdy Mark, Tom Brooke gives a suitably intense performance. Initially, with his awkwardness and inappropriate humour, he’s not unsympathetic. When Louise cries he pats her stiffly on the back and says “there, there” like he’s repeating something he’s seen on TV. But his obvious attraction to her soon takes on sinister overtones. In turn, Kerry Condon, playing Louise, is very believable as a woman finding herself in the middle of a nightmare situation yet trying to remain in control, trying to remain in touch with reality.

Playwright Dennis Kelly is a name to look out for. He hones in on contemporary fears then uses them as a springboard towards fresh dramatic territory. His edgy Osama The Hero was well received at Hampstead Theatre a few months back and After The End was one of the big successes of this year’s Edinburgh fringe; it grips you from the beginning and doesn’t let up. He takes his scenario and pushes it to distressing but never implausible extremes.

As lack of food and loss of hope take their toll, and it becomes apparent quite how unbalanced Mark really is, the play becomes increasingly brutal and unsettling. The tipping point, in an inspired touch, is a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Mark unsurprisingly is a fan; Louise is less keen. In equally demanding roles, both Brooke and Condon give stunning performances – I can’t stress enoughhow good they are – really giving all of themselves to the audience and seeming to deteriorate both physically and mentally before our eyes.

After The End is an unnerving and powerful piece of drama. A curious hybrid, it contains elements of psychological thriller and even a slightly sci-fi feel, down in part to Miriam Buether’s stark white and mirrored set. Bright and striking, it somehow has the effect of diluting the claustrophobia. Still director Roxana Silbert ratchets up the tension admirably, spiking things with humour where necessary, but never shirking from the play’s dips into the darkest places.

Kelly concludes his play with one final bleak twist. Only it’s not really a twist; in fact it’s signposted in a way that slightly undermines the impact of the earlier more contemplative scenes. It still packs a punch though, gives you a definite chill.

While it leaves you with the odd nitpicky question, this is still an excellent piece of writing from a talented and relevant new voice. The perfect excuse to sidestep the rowdy touts outside Shepherd’s Bush Empire and head next door.

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