24th May 2015 was the day that Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. It was a great moment in LGBT+ history. That a country with a deeply homophobic religious framework could vote for equality in this way was truly inspiring.
I’m not saying there wasn’t a dry eye in the place but from where I was sitting I couldn’t see one.
The Morning After the Life Before is the story of Ann Blake, an Irish citizen, actor and singer, and her personal journey to that life-changing day. The production uses a minimalist set in which a white wedding dress (never worn) is used to great effect.
As a young adult, Ann spent too long snogging boys in an alcoholic haze and not feeling ‘it’. When she does finally feel something – if not actually ‘it’ at this stage – for a woman called Jenny, Ann’s world is shaken to its core. How can you fall in love with another woman in a town where everyone knows everyone else’s business and remain unscathed? The answer is, you can’t. Especially when you have to battle your own internalised homophobia.
When it is announced that there will be a referendum to decide whether to legalise same-sex marriage, Jenny becomes a full-on activist for the cause. There are poignant moments of acceptance as well as bigotry and misunderstanding during the campaign, not least when Ann’s religious parents decide to vote ‘No’.
The poignancy of the rest of the story is almost unbearable, yet uplifting and often hilarious. The fact that we already know that Ireland voted ‘Yes’ makes no difference to the tension of those last few days as Jenny starts to lose hope and Ann goes on the road with a show about voting Yes. When posters are up everywhere saying: 'People deserve a mother and father. Vote No', and 'Two men cannot replace a mother’s love. Vote No', it was impossible to feel confident.
This is a tale of two delightfully ordinary Irish women falling in love at a time when the possibility of marriage seemed out of the question. ‘Ann Blake’ is played by herself with a wonderful ease, wit and relaxed intimacy, while the equally talented Lucia Smyth plays Jenny (plus an eclectic handful of sundry characters). Both actors sling a guitar over their shoulder from time to time and burst rather beautifully into song.
The triumph of the 62% vote in favour of Yes is rousingly conveyed. Ann wakes up the next morning to a text from her brother: 'How’s the morning after the life before?' It will never be the same again.
Blake and Smyth worked so well together it was impossible not to be captivated from the start - they showed how ordinary people can be extraordinary, even heroic.
This is a play about faith. As Blake says, 'It’s hard to keep your faith as you grow older,' but after her religious faith has faded, she does indeed find a different kind of lasting faith that is moving to behold. The actors received a well-deserved standing ovation. I’m not saying there wasn’t a dry eye in the place but from where I was sitting I couldn’t see one.