You know what I thought while in my workshops today? I could really do with seeing some psychologically realistic drama about a bunch of people condemned to die for witchcraft. Okay, so I didn’t really think that, but on the plus side, that’s what DramaSoc have got on in the Drama Barn this weekend! More specifically, it’s David Campton’s 1978 play After Midnight, Before Dawn, directed by Jared More.
After Midnight, Before Dawn is set in the last days of the sixteenth century, when people were thrown in prison and executed for seemingly practising witchcraft – or denying social and cultural norms of the time. We’re thrown into a cramped cell where six people await their deaths in the dark hours of the early morning, and watch as they turn on one another in a desperate attempt to escape their fate. They turn to the Calm Woman (Golfo Migos) who promises them freedom in exchange for their souls to hand over to the Devil. Chaos ensues, and it isn’t long before the ominous shroud of darkness comes creeping in to decide who truly survives…
After a short walk through a shadowy tunnel into the Barn’s auditorium, and after taking your seat on one of the three seating sections made possible by the in-the-round staging, you’re allowed to start taking in every aspect of this powerful little piece of theatre’s scenography. Chains hang from the Barn’s supports, while theatrical fog winds its way through the harsh blue lights and casts an eerie glow onto the cold grey floor of the stage. The condemned characters sit down on the floor, painfully waiting for their time to run out while looking over their shoulders and making peace with the world they’re about to exit – or rather, one that’s kicked them out for a ridiculous reason.
The whole company of performers does well in creating an intense, moody atmosphere that really makes you focus on each of the characters, making their fear, terror and desperation become highly watchable. Migos and Alice Tones are both excellent as their characters, adding the icing on the cake to a talented cast who bring Campton’s text to life.
If you’re looking for a high-octane, intensely dramatic allegory driven by an engrossing plot, then this short one act piece might not be for you. But hey, not all plays based around this time period can be The Crucible, can they? If you are, however, looking for a well-directed, beautifully characterised piece of brooding theatre that paces itself nicely and offers up a unique insight into those desperate areas of the human psyche, then After Midnight, Before Dawn could be right up your street.
After Midnight, Before Dawn is playing at the Drama Barn, University of York until 8 November. For more information and tickets, visit the University of York Students’ Union website. Photo: Harry Elletson.