I don’t, I must confess, listen to my copy of the Before After cast recording nearly as much as I should, especially given that I contributed several hundred pounds to its production budget. I did so a few years ago after I had re-mortgaged the house and found I still had some money left over, and as I have never been used to having money in the bank (you could say I’ve rediscovered the old me in these Covid days) I thought I’d find better uses for it. Besides the fundraiser for Before After, there were some production costs for a one-act play called Sid which I put some money towards, and a fundraiser for a teenage actor called Lucy-Mae Beacock, born with spina bifida, and later diagnosed with scoliosis (curvature of the spine). At the time, the best surgical option was some new-fangled technique or other in the United States. The long and the short of it is that the operation worked, Sid had a run at Above the Arts, the Arts Theatre’s upstairs studio space in the West End, and Before After got its cast recording. Not so much win-win as win-win-win.
Ben (Hadley Fraser) and Ami (Rosalie Craig) – as everyone who moves in London’s musical theatre circles knows, we’re talking about a real-life couple here, in case anyone watching was wondering why they weren’t two metres apart as per Covid-secure guidelines – are going through a rough patch in their relationship, not helped by the show’s critical incident, in which Ben was in a road traffic accident, resulting in a severe case of amnesia. Meeting Ami again some time after being discharged from hospital was (from an audience perspective, anyway) both amusing and awkward: he really doesn’t remember very much, even to the point of having to relearn socialising.
The narrative is largely expanded through exposition, so it’s plain clothes costumes throughout and nothing at all in the way of props. There’s no choreography to speak of either, so the show may come across to some as a play with songs rather than a musical. A few still images at the appropriate points are useful, and the show doesn’t feel unnecessarily complicated even as it jumps around between ‘before’ (the car crash, that is) and ‘after’. I suppose the show would work just as well if it were told in forward chronological order, but to do that would make the show just another one of those productions where everything is ticking along reasonably well between the characters before a car crash or other life-changing incident suddenly comes along and tears everybody’s lives apart. And we hardly need any more of that kind of story in 2020.
By ‘revealing’ the crash at the start of the show, it can then move quickly to an exploration of its consequences. There’s nothing new in a highly significant event leading to a richer and deeper appreciation of life, but the full gamut of human emotion expressed in ninety minutes nonetheless leaves the audience feeling hopeful. Some soaring melodies and tremendously profound lyrics come together to make this triumph over adversity love story a worthwhile and valuable experience.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.