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After The End - Not The End of The World As We Know It

When a young woman has been left with two black eyes you fear the
worst. When that young woman just happens to be an actress appearing in
a brutal contemporary play in which power games between the sexes are
brought to the fore in a disturbing and claustrophobic fashion, you
could be forgiven for speculating on how life imitating art might not
necessarily always be such a good thing. As it turns out, the injuries
sustained by Nicola Daley, who has just finished a run of Dennis
Kelly's play, After The End, in a production directed by Amanda Gaughan
at the Citizens Theatre's Circle Studio in Glasgow, are nothing to do
with anything that happened onstage. Rather, Daley's two shiners were
acquired in an offstage stumble that nevertheless lent her performance
opposite Jonathan Dunn in Amanda Gaughan's production an accidental
whiff of authenticity.

Just as the Citz production has been put to bed, however, another take
on After The End prepares to open in Dundee in a site-specific
production directed by Emma Faulkner which in August will head to the
capital for a run at The Pleasance as part of the Edinburgh Festival
Fringe. Emma Faulkner's production featuring the Rep ensemble's
graduate actors Helen Darbyshire and Tony McGeever may not have real
life bruises, though it is going for broke by adopting a site-specific
approach in a yet to be revealed space close to the theatre.

What, then, is the appeal of Kelly's play, first seen in 2005 in a
production by Paines Plough directed by Roxana Silbert and seen at
Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre?

Set in an antiquated nuclear bunker owned by Mark, he and Louise come
to after the apparent end of the world following a massive explosion
the night before. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that far
from the knight in shining armour he initially appears to be, Mark is
something of a loner who has finally ended up alone with the girl of
his dreams. Trapped together at such close quarters, an increasingly
violent power struggle unfolds that has life-changing consequences for
them both.

“It's a nightmare scenario,” Gaughan points out, “and it's a hell on
earth which I think we can all empathise with, particularly just now,
when there's a lot of scary stuff going on in the world with potential
terrorism in the middle east and everything else. There's a point where
we can all go what if we were put into that situation. There's also
something there about the power struggle between the two characters and
the competitive nature of it. But what I was really interested in was
whether this was a twisted love story or not. During rehearsals we
spoke about if you could just get someone you really loved or really
fancied in that room and you talked to them and showed them the real
you, wouldn't that be fantastic?”

While clearly planning a very different production to Gaughan's,
Faulkner in part concurs with her sentiments, pointing out that “It's
very very contemporary. It's as play about fear, isolation and power,
and looks at some of the things you go through in extreme situations.
With everything that's going on, it feels very pertinent to the times
we live in.”

In practical terms, the play is also ideal for today in as much as
economics dictate that small-cast plays look set to become more
prevalent. A two-hander, then, is ideal, especially for theatres such
as Dundee and the Citz, both of whom have graduate or apprentice
schemes for young actors. Finding meaty parts for such ingénues can
often be a tricky business, with only Enda Walsh's now classic Disco
Pigs being on a similar level with After The End. For trainee directors
such as Gaughan and Faulkner, both wishing to make a mark beyond
assisting at the start of their career, After The End has plenty to
grab hold of.

Gaughan initially trained at RSAMD on the Contemporary Theatre Practice
course, before working with Paisley-based theatre in education company
PACE. She then went back to RSAMD to study direction in relation to
contemporary and classical text, since when she has worked on work by
writers such as Douglas Maxwell and Davey Anderson, as well as
producing the Arches-based On The verge festival of new work. After a
year at the Citz assisting on the likes of Marilyn and A Clockwork
Orange, After The End is both graduation piece and calling card.

As it is too for Faulkner, who joined Dundee Rep as part of the
Regional Theatre Young Directors Scheme in association with the Young
Vic in London. Prior to that she studied English at Glasgow University
before joining a literary agency. It was here she developed a love of
working on scripts, and went on to study directing. Since then Faulkner
has directed Joe Orton's Ruffian on the Stair at the Orange Tree in
Richmond, where Citizens Theatre artistic director in waiting and
former boss of the Rep cut his directing teeth. Faulkner has also
directed David Harrower's Knives In Hens at Battersea Arts Centre, and
in Dundee has assisted on Sunshine on Leith and A Doll's House. More
recently she directed Linda McLean's lunchtime short, What Love's For,
at Oran Mor. After The end, though, looks set to be her biggest
challenge to date.

“It's the first time a play's ever been done in this space,” Faulkner
reveals, “but After The End is absolutely right for it, and doing it
site-specific will certainly help with the feel of the play in terms of
creating an atmosphere. Obviously there are concerns about making it
safe for an audience, which is why it will have such a limited
capacity, and there are technical challenges as well, but I think if we
can bring everything together it should make for a pretty interesting

While Gaughan too is no stranger to site-specific work through her time
on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course and through her work at the
Arches, putting her production on in a more conventional space was a
deliberate choice.

“We thought about it a lot,” she says, “but for some reason with this
play it became about making it as theatrical as possible. We looked at
all the nooks and crannies in the building, but in the end we opted for
a studio space so it would have an intimacy but also retain that sense
of voyeurism you get in the play.”

Given the play's at times shocking look at psychological and physical
abuse, it's notable that all three UK productions have been directed by
women. This isn't something either Faulkner or Gaughan have allowed to
affect their approach, however.

“We did think about how you avoid making the woman a victim,” Gaughan
admits, “but I became more interested in the characters psychological
deterioration. I think we can all get ourselves in situations that
spiral out of control, and I think in this play the moral compass goes
askew really quickly. That's what's exciting about it.”

Faulkner concurs. “I don't think audiences will know what to expect,”
she says, keeping her fingers crossed that none of her actors end up
going home with black eyes.

After The End, Dundee Rep, June 16th-25th; then at The Pleasance,
Edinburgh, August 6th-28th.

The Herald, June 14th 2011



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