Before After ★★★ Southwark Playhouse | Feb 7 - Mar 2, 2024

Before: Ami hasn't got a clue who Jackson Pollock is until she spills wine on Ben, a waiter who is also an artist. They become involved, but her reliance on her right-wing, disapproving father, plus Ben's indecisiveness and lack of ambition drive them apart. After: Ami now has an art gallery and Ben has amnesia. They reconnect, and she prepares to mount a show of his work. However, Ami hesitates to tell Ben that they have previously been in a relationship. While the plot is both simplistic and contrived, there is a sweetness to the story that shines through in the performances of Grace Mouat and Jacob Fowler. They bring a nice sincerity to their interpretations that make us care about this couple. The score is reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim and we couldn't help thinking of his brilliant meditation on creativity, Sunday in the Park with George. This musical is not nearly so ambitious, focussing on the love story and the possibility of second chances. There is no real standout song here, though Mouat's declaration of her intention to reveal the relationship to her father is a wonderfully powerful moment. The lack of microphones creates a nice intimacy and honesty in the singing, but it also reveals various limitations. The quavery notes and the insufficient articulation are all on show. The alternating between "Before" and "After" sequences doesn't really add much to the story, or provide additional insight into the characters. The device seems a bit affected, as if being employed only to add weight and interest to the standard, romcom narrative formula. The strength of Before After is the touching nature of the performances, and what hard heart can resist a love story that overcomes amnesia?

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Danny Kaan

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