A trip to Earl’s Court on a Sunday afternoon to see a play that hasn’t played in London for over a century?Why not?
Dion Boucicault, Irish actor and playwright, was famed for his melodramas with a touch of farce – London Assurance, for example – and also authored the saga of Rip van Winkle.
After Dark is not as well-known, but proves to have all the ingredients of the genre including an implausible storyline, pockets of over-acting where the text demands it, dastardly villains with questionable pasts, and even an appearance from Queen Victoria.
It opens at the dedication of the new Metropolitan Railway, and the arches which shaped the new tunnel became a variety of places from a posh garden and a mission to the haunts of the homeless and the stage of a music hall.
Blackmailers, baronets, insanity, the demon drink and the penal colonies all make an appearance alongside tunes like Burlington Bertie and Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy, while some interesting and quirky staging and lighting cues make the most of the small space (using torches to represent a train which rushes up the stairs in the seating bank works particularly well).
I enjoyed this piece which had particularly good performances from George (Jonathan Le Billon), Eliza (Jemima Watling), Dicey Morris (Victoria Jeffrey), Frank Dalton (Simon de Deney), and good comic turns from the lawyer (Toby Wynn Davies), the clerk (Tom Fyans), and the dreadfully shallow Rose (Jazz Sanders). The music is artfully arranged by Rosa Lennox and doesn’t hold up the action.
After Dark may not be a lost classic, but this revival is worth a look for its technical innovations, impossible coincidences, and relative rarity.
Phil Wilmott directs, Hannah Postlethwaite designs, and the play runs at the Finborough Theatre until 6 July. Photo credits Scott Rylander.