Before After Review

Southwark Playhouse – until 2 March 2024

Reviewed by Claire Roderick


This charming and classy chamber musical is a delight from start to finish. When Ben and Ami meet on a hillside under a tree, Ami recognises Ben, but he does not know her. When Ben quickly and sweetly explains that his social awkwardness is due to amnesia after an accident, Ami does not take her chance to reveal their relationship before the accident, instead pretending that this is their first meeting.

This problematic start could make Ami an unsympathetic character, but her motivations and fears are gradually revealed and, even if her choices are dubious, it is easy to understand why she made them and see the guilt she feels. Grace Mouat’s wonderful performance ensures that Ami’s manipulations are always seen through the prism of love.

The two time frames – before and after Ben’s accident – are differentiated by clear but simple costume tweaks, ensuring no confusion about when the scenes are taking place. The joy of falling in love soon becomes complicated by family and the realities of living together as Ami supports Ben’s passion for art. As we watch the breakdown of their relationship in parallel with the beginning of their new one, the positive changes Ami has made in her life because of Ben during the years they were apart become obvious and the frustration builds as she shies away from each new chance to tell Ben the truth as she slowly guides him back to his life as an artist.

There are issues with the plot – No friends to tell Ami that Ben was hurt? No photographs of the couple? – but as with any good romcom, the characters’ journey sweeps you along and any plot holes are easily forgiven. Timothy Knapman’s book is polished and funny and Stuart Matthew Price’s music and lyrics soar and are charged with emotion. Georgie Rankcom’s exquisite direction often evokes the warm wistful glow of lost summer afternoons with Yimei Zhao’s blank canvases and neutral colours a continuous reminder of Ben’s lost/future talent. Behind the canvases sit the musicians, led by Ben McQuigg, with just piano, cello and guitar creating a glorious sound as the actors unmiked voices fill the theatre creating an intimate atmosphere.

Grace Mouat and Jacob Fowler are simply brilliant as Ami and Ben, with stunning chemistry. Mouat’s voice is phenomenal, and she nails this complicated character, showing the fear, love and conflicted guilt in each gesture and expression. Fowler is charismatic and has superb comic timing, making the audience love Ben within minutes, and the pair’s voices are beautiful together. Their wonderful performances make Ami and Ben a couple you want to stay together.

Grab a ticket while you can – this is special.