What a strange play this turned out to be! After the first 15 minutes I was mentally composing my comment and wondering why the director had chosen to play such a melodrama so melodramatically. But then it turns out that the original play was rather more tongue-in-cheek and less stereotypical, than I first gave it credit for and that the director has by playing this up come up with a production which is funnier than I had any right to expect whilst still keeping the creaky narrative (the finale is positively like a Shakespearean comedy).
The staging was very good, although the manually-revolving arches which serve to depict the Underground, music-hall, country house and East End rookery were a little unstable and almost caused the cast some grief. Have to say the musical side of things was very well handled, some seriously good voices in the singing - not the least being mine when we joined in the lusty choruses of "Rule Britannia" at the curtain call.
If you hate melodrama avoid this. But if you can get past the genre this is actually a well put together and enjoyable performance which is good for a fair few (intentional) laughs.
Watching this the other evening, I found myself thinking 'This is brilliant'. Then a while later I was thinking 'How could I have thought otherwise, this is rubbish'. A little while later I was back to 'It's kind of brilliant in its way'.
What attracted me to this was the writer's name, Dion Boucicault, whose well-known London Assurance I'd seen and loved at the National Theatre London a few years ago. Long years before that I'd seen The Shaughraun with Stephen Rea and co chasing each other across the green hillocks of the Olivier stage turning as intended. Common denominator: laughter. After Dark prompts a bit of laughter and causes many more smiles. The writer intends the melodrama, the sense of the ridiculous, and director and cast pull it off in what is the play's 'First London performance for 120 years'.
The director's name attracted me as at the Finborough I had seen at least three things Phil Wilmott had previously directed: Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy, Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths, and John Galworthy's Loyalties. The dozen-strong cast play multiple roles in a farce that stays busy with effective scene changes, playing with space, and dialogue from mid-19th century London, with its chancers and criminals but also higher, moral aspirations. Here and there scenes include accordion, violins and singing that is delivered by at least two or three impressive voices amidst several others in chorus. Old reliable Boucicault could write for the stage all right, and these actors and singers give it plenty of welly. Of course there are romances, intrigue, misunderstandings and skullduggery, set in a London that has just had built its first few miles of passenger railway from Paddington to Farringdon and tunnels that enable a city underground as much as it was on the surface.
We don't get to see Dion Boucicault plays very often - the excellent NT revivals of The Shaughraun and London Assurance as mentioned above, and the 2014 Orange Tree revival of The School for Scheming are the only others I've seen (I did not see the recent The Octoroon which was based on his play). It is a pity as they are both interesting and entertaining. Interesting because melodrama was by far the most popular genre of the Victorian stage but it is out of fashion now, except in a modified form on TV and in film. In this case it is more like a knowing comic take on the more basic melodramas which were common at the time. A good production here by Phil Willmott (not normally my favourite director) and OK acting make for an entertaining 2hrs.
The play ranges between the tunnels of the recently opened Metropolitan Line, a music hall, and a Dickensian rookery on the banks of the Thames - I kept thinking how great it would be if, like for The Shaughraun, the NT gave it a massive production in the Olivier. No hope of that of course with the puritan humour-free regime in charge there.
Smell it. Touch it. Kiss it. Kiss it! It's the mother lode...