Book and Additional Lyrics: Timothy Knapman
Music and Lyrics: Stuart Matthew Price
Director: Georgie Rankcom
Although a digital hit for Southwark Playhouse during lockdown, Before After struggles on the physical stage. In this musical for two voices, Jacob Fowler and Grace Mouat give solid performances but the story is hard to swallow and every song sounds the same.
Ami and Ben meet by a tree with a view. Ami is shocked to see him and even more shocked when he doesn’t recognise her. Five years before they were in a relationship and lived together. He doesn’t remember anything. He’s suffering from amnesia caused by a car crash. Incredibly, Ami chooses not to fill in Ben’s blanks and allows him to believe that now is the first time they have met.
Over the next few months, Ami, for want of a better word, gaslights Ben, never telling him the truth about his past and buying him pencils with the intention that he will take up painting again. Ben hopes one day to recover his memory completely, unaware that he is treading familiar ground. Ami keeps quiet; she’s enjoying the second chance at love.
Such a plot is pretty preposterous – does Ben really have no one in his life who can help him piece together his previous life? – so it’s a relief when the narrative goes back in time to Before, when Ami and Ben meet for the first time. He’s a waiter at a fancy restaurant; she’s been stood up by her boyfriend. Ben quits his job and Ami dumps her lover. Ben and Ami become a couple.
The Before sections are definitely more believable but are also a little mundane. The only conflict between them is that she spends too much time on the phone talking to her dad. There’s a class difference between them and although they speak about it, it’s hard to see how this affects them in the outside world. There’s little jeopardy here until the frustrations between them come out of nowhere.
As Ami, Grace Mouat is unsurprisingly magnificent, her voice as clear as a bell. Mouat also adds some much-needed likeability to her character, although Ami’s lies are ultimately unforgivable. Jacob Fowler, who won the 2020 BBC talent show Little Mix: The Search with his band, is Ben. When he reaches the high notes, his voice is beautiful, but at other times he overdoes the vibrato. However, the music by Stuart Matthew Price is not varied enough; everything is at the same tempo, and only Daddy, I Met A Boy stands out with its jaunty vibes.
The performers do all they can to bring this odd story to life, and impressively for the Southwark Playhouse, they are not miked up and their voices, especially Mouat’s, fill the small auditorium. Supported by musicians on piano, guitar and cello, Before After has lots of the ingredients to be the perfect chamber musical. But it’s not there yet.
Runs until 2 March 2024