White Bear Theatre, London – until 8 February 2020
It’s a little known truth that when two men kiss for the first time, Dolly Parton will start playing. Or so Scott Mackie and Santino Smith would have you believe in a witty moment early on in their new play After(s). It’s also a bit of a misdirect as where you think you might be getting a play that explores sexuality, it soon shifts that onto the back-burner as it delves into other issues.
The play is mainly an exploration of how no good can come from mid-week drinking, when recklessness crashes into responsibilities. Andy has just finished a long day in the office when he bumps into his best-friend-from-high-school-back-in Paisley-Yog and as a catch-up pint turns into shots into clubbing into afterpartying, the carefully ordered pieces of his London life come tumbling down around him in the most farcical of manners.
Cos despite that illicit smooch on the sofa, Andy is engaged to high-flyer Sarah and he wants to propose to her tonight. Yog however is determined to continue their afterparty shenanigans into a second evening and as he ropes in pizza-delivery-worker-and-so-much-more-besides Laura and finds a stash of MDMA, everyone ends up reconsidering their future – too much for a Wednesday night, right? Not when you’re young and living in the city.
Mackie and Smith’s writing has a wonderfully electric charge about it, their ear for authentic dialogue perfectly tuned to that point in your mid-twenties where society strongly suggests you should be confidently on the rise when in reality, more often than not, you’re barely keeping your shit together – the pressures and realities of young adulthood sometimes just too much to bear. Whether ostensibly at the top of the ladder (as in Lucy Heath’s nicely unspooling Sarah) or the bottom (Laura Singleton nailing the unpredictable energy of Laura),
Smith’s Yog finds comfort in regressing to happier high-school times and sticking at the same pub job in Paisley he’s had since he was 16, whereas Mackie’s Andy has literally remade himself in London. Yet both are somehow trapped, trying not to show that they’re flailing and never quite sure what they are going to say when they open their mouth. Consequently, they’re both always frantically scrabbling to do/say/find the ‘right thing’ – it’s hilarious but also moving, even in the daftest depths here.
There’s only a couple of moments where the surreal twists feel a little unmoored, wacky rather than purposeful. And though they get the laughs, up-to-the-minute references to Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candles and Prince Andrew don’t quite feel necessary, there’s something more timeless in After(s)‘ study of what you have to leave behind in order to grow up, learning to accept the changes that will always happen no matter how many lines of coke you do on a Wednesday night. A pair of distinct young voices who both know what they’re talking about and have something to say.
After(s) is booking at the White Bear Theatre until 8 February 2020 and the Old Hairdresser’s, Glasgow from 12-13 February 2020.