A sweet and likeable new play, albeit with nothing new or especially exciting to offer.
After We Danced presents two parallel stories. In the first, the year is 1952. Fran (Rosie Bennett) and Finn (Samuel Freeman) meet in a sleepy post-war seaside town, bonding over their shared passion for dancing and dreaming big. The couple envisage a future together, but circumstances tragically push them apart. The second story takes place sixty years later: Fran and Finn are marrying at last, much to the chagrin of Fran’s cynical fifty-something son (an excellent Andrew Jefferson-Tierney). John, Finn’s adult son, narrates the action as he explains to his fellow wedding guests what happened to the couple all those years earlier.
The key to a successful romantic drama is the relationship between the central characters. The audience can only invest in the story if the two principal actors convince as a couple. As Fran and Finn, Bennett and Freeman are credibly earnest. Freeman thoroughly inhabits his character, imbuing Finn with a cocky, likable charm whilst ensuring he is always believable as a young man of the 1950s. Bennett as Fran captures the frustrations of a determined young girl constrained by both her era and her familial circumstances. Together Bennett and Freeman make a sweet couple, even if their chemistry lacks the passion or spark to convince as the basis for a life-long, decades-spanning love story.
In the modern part of the story, Andrew Jefferson-Tierney Brad as Fran’s son is a particular standout. Unimpressed by the proceedings and unconvinced by the notion of true love, Brad becomes ever drunker as the night proceeds. Jefferson-Tierney’s performance offers welcome comic relief. His character’s cynicisms and his amusing facial expressions ensure the show avoids becoming overly mawkish. Samantha Hindman, who plays Brad’s put-upon, day-dreaming wife Jen also deserves a mention for her empathetic and believable performance. It is also worth noting that, in the production I saw, the show’s writer and director Andy Moseley was playing the role of John in the place of actor Terry Perkins. All the actors handled this presumably unexpected situation with professionalism.
Moseley’s script is well-paced and amiable, although at times runs the risk of veering into melodrama. The explanation of why Finn and Fran were forced apart seems overly sensational and this textual melodrama does not translate into the performances. This may be a relief, but remains odd: when Fran explains the details of a shockingly tragic event from her past, she does not seem appropriately emotional. She is matter-of-fact and vaguely regretful rather than hysterical, which seems incongruous.
Ultimately, After We Danced is nothing revolutionary or life-changing, but the production works well as an unassuming, romantic post-dinner show on the Royal Mile, with some strong performances ensuring it is always watchable.