Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (The Poems of Dylan Thomas, 1939)
After All These Years is not a light comedy, nor a stereotypical depiction of ageing, whereby an individual’s productive years are behind them and their remaining days are spent reminiscing about their youth. In each of its three acts, it carries a powerful message about the precious gift of life and how easy it is to misuse it.
Writer Giles Cole presents us with two married couples, in various stages of advancing years, who share a background in show business; the wives were chorus girls and the husbands’ involvement in theatre less well defined. We first meet the husbands, Alf (Jeffrey Holland) and Charlie (Graham Pountney) in a pub, each a stereotype of two old geezers sitting with their pints, whiling away their remaining years in idle chatter.
The two men are in mid-conversation with Alf unable to recall the name of a TV weatherman from yesteryear and Charlie offering clues to help his old friend remember. Alf remains frustrated as the name of the weatherman escapes him. It is a snapshot of their lives in retirement, pint in hand and then ‘same again’, before stumbling home under a darkening sky.
Their conversation inevitably turns to sex and the women the two men might have lusted after, or committed adultery with, during the tenure of their less-than-ideal marriages. At first, the men snicker like adolescent boys boasting about their sexcapades, until Alf slams his pint down: “Do you think I didn’t know what was going on?” he shouts at Charlie. It’s an accusation that sets the groundwork for themes of infidelity and betrayal inherent in the play.
In Act Two, we meet their wives, Joan (Judy Buxton) and Marianne (Carol Ball) who share a long-standing friendship, nurtured in their days as chorus girls. At first, the character of Joan functions as a ‘straight man’ – a foil to highlight the comedic aspects of Marianne’s drinking problem – but it is Marianne who proves to be the most sincere and captivating character in the play. Director Graham Pountney (also as Charlie) ensures an effective pace that allows the seriousness of the scene to move from complaints about their husbands – which would simply duplicate the first act – to something more furtive and painful to express.
Lost in thought, and with a large gin and tonic to hand, Carol Ball embodies Marianne’s anxiety: whatever troubles her is bearable as long as it responds to the medicating effects of alcohol – but only just. There is something she needs to say, words that require a witness, even to an untrustworthy Joan, whose shrill interruptions and fluttering hands betray a deeply unsettled human being.
In Marianne’s revelation, writer Cole plumbs the integrity of human life and imbues her with the courage to pursue a resolution for what Marianne considers an unforgivable sin. It matters not whether a conclusion is realised, but simply that Marianne opts for the unknown, rather than to remain in a stagnant relationship.
In Act Three, all four characters come together. What we’ve learned about them during the course of the play is both sad and encouraging. Sad because the all too casual events of infidelity and betrayal between Charlie and Joan seem not to have enlightened them in any significant way, while Alf, a self-professed monogamist, is encouraged by Marianne’s decision to strike out on her own.
He is the only character who recognises her valour and begs for her continued friendship. Yet Alf is also the character who suffers from dementia and is living with partial paralysis from a mild stroke. What is author Cole trying to tell us? Perhaps it will all unfold as Marianne and Alf sip from cups of properly brewed tea.
After All These Years, seemingly a rollercoaster romp through the pitfalls of friendships and the ageing process, reveals its underbelly in one character’s decision to grapple with the ferocious jaws of what cannot be changed or undone, and in so doing pays homage to the gift of life. Drop whatever concepts you may hold about ageing; its core is embodied in the human spirit. Journey to the Tabard Theatre to discover it for yourself.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Relationships can be a delicate balance of hope, desire, memory and regret, especially when two former showbiz couples think they know all there is to know about each other. But what secrets are silently waiting for their cue, ready to change the course of the couple’s lives forever?
After All These Years stars Jeffrey Holland (Hi-De-Hi!, You Rang M’Lord?), Judy Buxton (Lovejoy, Rising Damp, On The Up), Carol Ball (The Bill, The Trip) and Graham Pountney (Angels, Peak Practice, Doctors). This production premiered at the Brighton Fringe Festival 2023 where it won the Outstanding Theatre Award. It then transferred to the Quay Arts Centre, Newport, Isle of Wight and then to Jermyn Street Theatre.
After All These Years
by Giles Cole
7th February – 24th February 2024