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After the Ball review at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – ‘stilted and jarring’

Jack Bennett and Mark Carlisle in After the Ball at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London. Photo: Mitzi de Margary Jack Bennett and Mark Carlisle in After the Ball at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London. Photo: Mitzi de Margary

Ian Grant’s After the Ball explores how war breaks down the things that people consider integral to their sense of self. Despite opening on International Women’s Day, it seems primarily concerned with how this effects men, actually one man: William Randall (Stuart Fox).

The play explores Randall’s changing ideals, from his socialist stance at the outbreak of the First World War, through the military and emotional battles he wages over the subsequent 60 years. The crux of the narrative is Randall’s betrayal of his meek wife Blanche (Julia Watson) with Belgian manic pixie war girl Marguerite (Elizabeth Healey).

Nadia Papachronopoulou’s direction is frequently stilted and while the decision to have the same actors play across ages is commendable, it is poorly executed. Watson’s ageing is indicated in the main by a change in accent and an increasingly twitchy right hand.

Natalie Pryce’s design, a mix of AstroTurf and scaffolding, feels at odds with the production’s attempted naturalism, something not helped by Chris Drohan’s jarring sound design.

No fault is ever attributed to the men in Grant’s play; Marguerite tells Randall to leave her, Blanche isolates herself with her constant, irritating handwringing. Even the unseen wife of light relief character Albert Kerridge (Jack Bennett) is blamed for his signing up to fight. Though Randall’s daughter (Emily Tucker) initially brings hope of a more independent attitude, she is quickly punished for her ambition.

From Blanche’s mentions of her suffrage meetings onwards, Grant repeatedly shuts down the women’s stories to keep the focus on the distinctly less interesting Randall.

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Verdict
Stilted play about the long shadow of war that limits itself to men’s trauma 
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