After the Ball (Upstairs at the Gatehouse)

Posted: March 9, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Ian Grant      Director: Nadia Papachronopoulou

As with the old music hall song, many a heart is aching in After the Ball. Ian Grant’s new play is a London working class family saga spanning more than 60 years in the 20th Century, but, sadly, it buckles under the weight of its own over-ambition.

With World War I looming, young socialist William Randall (Stuart Fox) marries naive, simpering Blanche (Julia Watson) and tells her that “the poison is in the wind”. Ignoring his wife’s protests, he decides that the only antidote to the poison that he can offer is to join up, which he does, along with his friend Albert (Jack Bennett). Much is spoken about the horrors of the trenches, but William survives with only a leg wound and, while he is on leave in London for Blanche to nurse him, a baby is conceived.

After the War, William stays on in Belgium to help out with the reconstruction process and begins a torrid affair with sweet local mademoiselle, Marguerite (Elizabeth Healey), before returning home to his now hectoring wife and their daughter, Joyce (played from her teenage years by Emily Tucker). Through the London Blitz we go and then the Attlee and Wilson governments and then membership of what has since become the European Union. Joyce, a flighty girl, marries badly and later emulates her father by committing to left wing causes.

The story is told in non-linear form, leading to frequent confusion and, when characters are all played by single actors over a wide span of ages, making them consistently believable becomes virtually impossible. In Nadia Papachronopoulou’s plodding production, nothing is as moving as we feel it should be and, instead of tears, there are frequent giggles, prompted by stilted dialogue.

Meaty themes, including socialism, pacifism and women’s suffrage float over the play like clouds without ever getting properly grounded and integrated into the unfolding drama. Near the end, it seems that Grant wants to use the Randall family’s story as a metaphor for Britain’s relationship with continental Europe (or, specifically, Brussels) through to the modern era, but whatever messages he intends to convey emerge feeling as hopelessly muddled as so much else in his play. In trying too hard to say too much, the writer ends up saying nothing at all.

Performance date: 8 March 2018

Photo: Mitzi de Margary

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:

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