Sunday, 27 November 2016

Theatre review: After October

"I can't imagine ever being able to laugh about any of this," says Rodney Ackland's author substitute. Which is actually one of the evening's better gags as After October is a play that does exactly that. Ackland ended up becoming one of the most popular West End playwrights of the mid-20th Century before falling back into obscurity, but this autobiographical play goes back to before his success: Clive Monkhams (Adam Buchanan) is a young writer who occasionally makes a living out of magazine articles, and has published three novels that nobody bought. But his big hopes lie with a play that's actually found a producer willing to stage it in a small West End theatre. It's 1936, and Clive lives in a basement flat with his mother Rhoda (Sasha Waddell,) a former actress who fostered a bohemian spirit in her children but, after her husband died penniless, can't actually afford for them all to maintain their lifestyle.

Clive's writing is the main source of income, but between his mother's constant reminiscences about her days on stage, and the creditors calling to collect what they're owed, he doesn't get much quiet to work in.

He's in love with their lodger Francie (Jasmine Blackborow,) but while she feels the same, she's also got a sugar-daddy to help make her life more comfortable. Meanwhile his sisters have found fairly dubious ways to keep their heads above water as well: Joan (Allegra Marland) is having an affair with her married boss, and Lou (Peta Cornish) has moved to France to become a private dancer, a dancer for money, do what they want her to do. Just a private dancer, a dancer for money, and any old music will do.

Clive also has a middle-aged fangirl in Marigold (Beverley Klein,) who hopes to get cast in his play, and he's promised his anarchist poet friend Oliver (Patrick Osborne) financial help if he gets a box office hit. So by the time Lou returns with her adorable new French husband Armand (Andrew Cazanave Pin,) Clive is surrounded by people dependant on him, and as they put off more and more bills everything depends on the play's success. It's pretty obvious that this isn't going to turn out quite the way they all want, but Ackland has a lot of fun with the family's catastrophes as they're a relentlessly optimistic bunch, and they carry the audience along in this slightly hysterical hope for the best (of course, by the time Ackland wrote this, everything had turned out all right for him.)

Oscar Toeman's production plays up this lighter side of the play effectively, on an in-the-round set by Rosanna Vize that makes the Finborough's stage look larger than it actually is (although its actual cramped dimensions become more apparent whenever the cast trip over the set.) The theatre was also dealing with some awkward circumstances this afternoon as the pub downstairs was opening late, so the audience had to come in via the fire door and share the cast's bathroom; front-of-house dealt with it in a friendly and organised way so it was all a bit on-theme with a play about too many people making do in a small space. Even without the added bit of offstage drama though, this is a warm and entertaining production - albeit one that, like Clive's own play, could probably do with finding 15 minutes to cut.

After October by Rodney Ackland is booking until the 22nd of December at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Mitzi de Margary.

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