Review: After Life, National Theatre - a bittersweet, warm, fuzzy glow of a play
If you had to choose one memory to take with you into the afterlife, what would you choose - and how would you choose? This is the premise of After Life, adapted by Jack Thorne from a film by Hirokazu Kore-eda.
And it's an intriguing concept. One which gnaws at your mind while you are watching the story unfold in front of you.
Set in a sort of in-between place - kinda like 'King's Cross station' in the Harry Potter book - where people go for a week after they die. It looks a bit like a 1940/50's Government department, bureaucratic and grey.
The back wall of the Dorfman stage is floor to ceiling metal filing draws. There is a ladder on tracks of the sort you see in old libraries to help the staff reach the higher draws.
Its staff are there to guide the newly deceased in their choice of memory and then recreate it for them so they can pass on with their chosen memory.
Challenges and mistakes
They have their own issues and challenges, make mistakes and occasionally face a moral dilemma. It adds a rich layer to the story, another layer of humanity.
Naturally, different people respond to the place and the task they have in different ways.
There's the elderly lady more concerned about her cat, the teenager who settles on a memory very quickly, the young man who refuses to engage with the process and the workaholic who struggles to settle on something meaningful.
The search and recollection of memories provoke a huge mixture of emotions, but amid the maelstrom of anger, hurt, and regret, there are bundles of tender moments and joy.
And there is something very theatrical in the recreation of the memories as the afterlife guides work to make everything just so.
Cleverly staged to make full use of the performance space and more - the filing drawers are particularly well used. It gives the sense of a place that is part administrative, part stage set and somewhere else existing beyond what is earthly.
There are some fun little devices, such as how the days of the week are counted down.
It is superbly performed by the ensemble cast. Luke Thallon could be seen visibly shaking with emotion in one particularly powerful scene (looking forward to seeing him Camp Siegfried at the Old Vic next month).
What is important
After Life is an interesting examination of life, its complexity and what is valued and valuable. It's about how something made you feel, not the thing itself and why that is important.
It's a moving, bittersweet, warm fuzzy glow of a play, and I'm so glad I managed to get a ticket to see it before the end of the run.
Did you see After Life? What did you think?
Looking for something fun and silly to see in the West End? Try Wonderville: Magic & Illusion - review and details here.