What will the end of the world look like? Artists will envision scenes of environmental meltdown and social upheaval, so why shouldn’t Liv O’Donoghue use that act of imagination as the conceit for her new contemporary theatre production?
We find a film crew making a documentary-style movie about life after the apocalypse. Two survivors in a snowy outpost (Clara Simpson and Kip Johnson) are put through named stages of breakdown, from “Shock” to “Acceptance”. It’s an intriguing framework devised by O’Donoghue, in collaboration with the cast, to put shape on global disaster.
When Simpson peers almost sympathetically into a live camera, and says “It’s the waiting that’ll kill you,” it opens up the absurdity that gnaws at our existence. O’Donoghue is well aware of theatrical inheritances, from Samuel Beckett to Dead Centre, but still treats this material with particular seriousness. As arguments flow about household appliances and displays of emotion, the production seems to be diagnosing outbursts and mood changes as symptoms of a post-apocalyptic depression. With some bravura, these overreactions might make an arch piece of contemporary theatre.
The backdrop of Eugenia Genuchi’s exposed set, resembling a sound stage, holds a live projection that finds revelatory new angles to see the action onstage. That suggests something more interesting than predicting the end of the world: how we tend to fictionalise and embellish such catastrophe. It feels exploitative, for instance, when a reluctant Simpson is encouraged to reveal her feeling of panic, as O’Donoghue and film designer José Miguel Jiminez watch intently like an obsessed film crew.
Yet, signs of collapse are often more affecting onscreen than they are onstage. In pre-recorded footage Johnson, fear-filled and poignant, contemplates doomsday (“What will it look like? Will it hurt?”). Elsewhere, images of icecaps splintering and falling into water are sadly tragic. But such emotional wattage is often absent from the live performances.
Indeed, with such excellent but overpowering film design, this resembles an underdeveloped production endeavouring to strip away Armageddon.
Towards the end, O’Donoghue uses movement to try marshal proceedings into striking displays. Individuals, glittery in Maria Nilsson Waller’s costuming, shuffle defiantly under Sarah Jane Sheils’s hot pink lighting. Both bodies and camera are impressively choreographed to evoke thrilling scenes from disaster films.
Though the arrival of a surprise guest at the end, much like the production as a whole, lands like an overthought punch line, there is some success. AFTER has pictured the end.
AFTER is on until 15 September 2018 at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Click here for more details.