In a world ruined from the Holocaust, nuclear warfare, post-fact politics, artificial intelligence, climate change, the erosion of rights to privacy, the increasing polarization of society, and the general simulacrum which appears to veil all areas of life – both public and private – we are left with Wildcard’s After Party. As a tribute to a lost generation, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol in order to escape – if not resist – this increasing pressure, James Meteyard offers up a work that, whilst deeply imperfect, brims with potential.
A flat in London: empty beer cans, weed, Banksy posters, clothes drying on the radiator, dirty sofas and ashtrays. It is Bethany’s (Olivia Sweeney) birthday, and Harlan (Alex Forward), Allan (Atilla Akinci), Misha (Eleanor Crosswell) Will (Jamie Chandler), Jack (Meteyard), Max (Callum Cameron) and Phoebe (Megan Pemberton) are having a party. Complete with flashing lights, loud bass, pill-popping and binge drinking, the production is superb and the effect is faintly terrifying: a post- apocalyptic Shoreditch on a Saturday night springs to mind.
With the rising of the new day, the party-goers continue, toasting bottles of whisky to anything and everything. It is in these bleary-eyed, frenzied conditions that the story begins to unravel: Max, the boyfriend of Misha is being released from prison after being convicted of driving the car which led to their friend’s death four years previously.
As the wound begins to open, the rage begins to ooze. Pain, denial and trauma bubble up beneath the thinning party spirit.
Sweeney is superb as the hard, Northern, party girl, self-annihilating as a means of forgetting. Similarly, Pemberton is brilliant as the comparably sensible Phoebe, whose choice of escape (from the tragedy but also the subsequent decline of the group) is a nine-to-five job.
Cameron is similarly exquisite as the scapegoated ex-convict. Having heard the poison with which the other characters speak of him throughout, one expects an aggressive and unlikeable criminal. His eventual appearance, as an infinitely wounded and ultimately innocent individual, gives greater depth to the play.
Undoubtedly, Meteyard is a talented writer, and some of the exchanges are intensely true to life. Other parts, however, feel awkward and crude. The various romantic sub-plots are irrelevant and deeply confusing. By the end it’s impossible to keep track of who has slept with who, who was in love with who, and who was pretending. It is a shame the play does not end when it ought to – after the great climax – but instead drags on as the badly cast Crosswell and Chandler engage in a series of dull make-ups and break-ups.
All in all, it’s a very impressive show. It considers ideas of personal and collective responsibility particularly well. Most eruditely it depicts the contradictions (even, dare one say, hypocrisy) of millennials putting the world to rights by night only to find themselves incapable of summoning sufficient energy the following day to leave their bedrooms. The cast are strong, the writing occasionally brilliant, and it feels as if, with a few tweaks and some ruthless editing, it could be really superb.
After Party is playing Pleasance Theatre until March 26.
Photo: Isaac Whittingham