After Liverpool has nothing to do with the city in North West England – it’s best to reveal that detail straightaway so there are no misconceptions of scousers with their hair in rollers, jacking up cars, and trying to nick their wheels (stereotype alert).
Hollie Hales and Stephen Papaioannou ask questions – short, sharp, and direct. Answers, they don’t seem to matter. Deep and meaningful conversation, that’s not important. Similar interests are few and far between – these are simply superficial facts anyway. Where are the details? What is this play about? Does it actually matter?
Sam Luffman directs James Saunders’ After Liverpool as part of the Stomping Ground Festival, a Young Director’s training programme set up by StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Luffman injects pace and intrigue instantly into this performance – as the audience take their seats, the two actors are sat opposite, eyeing each other up in their pursuit of lustful conquest. This production requires a fast-paced, intricate understanding between the two, verbal tennis is the game of choice here. Hales and Papaioannou serve, rally, and volley with expert precision, in tune with each other to snap off the end of one line into another. This opening is electric.
Hales is the tease, but so is Papaioannou. She frustrates him, flirts with him – a game of cat and mouse that always results in sex. It’s the chase that excites, the catch is an all too brief and unsatisfactory moment of pleasure. But the thrill of the chase begins to fade too – Luffman’s work with the characters reveals brief moments of heartfelt honesty that are purposefully thrown aside amongst the rubble of this relationship. This is a time hop of all the arguments, snipes, and jabs that the two have.
The ending is inevitable in this setting, it doesn’t need further emphasis other than powerful performances. We get this in spades with these two actors. Luffman reveals the insecurities through the dialogue, a need for communication and intimacy, versus an irrational annoyance at pointless exchanges. Hales is biting and cold, Papaioannou sniping back with equal vitriol but still requiring to be closer than arms’ length.
“You don’t give much away” – Luffman clearly doesn’t intend to. Saunders writes After Liverpool purposefully devoid of those normal details that give colour and meaning to a situation. Luffman understands this, takes the concept and runs with it – simple, stylish, stunning.
After Liverpool played The Albany as part of Stomping Ground Festival on 17 March.