The first play in the new season at the Alma Tavern, above a now refurbished pub, is Aftercare by Bristol playwright Steve Lambert. It is an often uncomfortable piece of theatre starring three twenty-somethings with deviant needs. As with previous works by Lambert, sexual tension and violence bubble barely beneath the surface. It’s certainly not a play to watch with your mother.
Directed by Barry Edwards with design by Ruth Stringer, Aftercare begins with Sam (Vanessa Russell, in her debut stage performance), in her knickers as Paul (former professional footballer Daniel Tennessee Howard) looks on.
Through their conversation, we slowly but not quite fully learn what the pair have been up to. As the play progresses, there are hints of sadism, there is blood, and there is a flick knife.
There is also a surprising reference to Turning Japanese by one-hit wonders The Vapors, surprisingly and not very convincingly made in a church as the action is reaching its bloody climax.
We move from a normal living room in the first half to a church in the second, but move or be moved by the characters I was not.
Howard has one look: sullen. And despite the best efforts of Russell, half wide-eyed ingenue, half slut, and the third character Lisa, played with lurching emotion by Claire Amias, the plot is neither resolved nor fully explained.
Like Before It Rains, currently playing in the Bristol Old Vic studio, this time below another refurbished space, Aftercare can be brutally uncomfortable to watch.
Its Buffy The Vampire-style ending, with blood to be spilt and drunk, was certainly a surprise, but it did not have the shocking effect desired or required to satisfy the audience’s own thirst for drama.
Aftercare is at the Alma Tavern Theatre today and tomorrow, with a performance at 8pm today and 3.30pm and 8pm tomorrow. Click here for more information.