After Today Review – Wednesday 25 July at The Victoria, Swindon
Director Doug Kirby apologised prior to the start of the show for the lack of lighting effects to distinguish between past and present scenes, and the potential stuttering of the two actors going through their lines for the first time in front of a live audience. The performance was advertised as a scratch night, meaning we were encouraged to critique the show ahead of its month run in Edinburgh Fringe. Luckily for us there wasn’t a huge amount to complain about.
After Today is a one-act play written by Tim Connery about real-life seventies interviewer Bill Grundy; the man who reluctantly introduced punk rock to mainstream Britain and single-handedly ruined his career in the process. Connery’s writing portrays Grundy as a stern, pipe-smoking misanthrope, disenchanted with modern journalism and unafraid to voice his disgust for unprofessionalism in the workplace, despite the fact that he is a self-confessed alcoholic. Because of his past, Grundy, played by Alex Dee, is only able to get work presenting dull documentaries about decaying castles, so he alleviates his boredom by recounting how he took on The Sex Pistols in an infamous television live interview to his director, Julian, a much younger colleague who knows nothing of Grundy’s disgraceful antics.
Alex Dee was born to play Bill Grundy. His speech and mannerisms are spot on and he makes Grundy a sympathetic character – someone who yearns for the good old days when people did a good job regardless of how much they were breaking inside. The majority of the play is delivered in monologue form by Dee, which could potentially bore an audience, but he retains interest by pacing the length of the stage, gesticulating wildly and engaging in eye contact as he rants. The flashbacks with The Sex Pistols are more subdued – Dee retreats to the back of the stage and sits in his interviewer chair, shuffling papers on his lap and speaking to the imaginary band, the voices of whom are played back via a recording – but they provide welcome respite from his animated soliloquys.
Dee has a remarkable chemistry with his co-star, Ankur Sengupta, who portrays Julian as an enthusiastic and patient director, trying his best to pass on the love of his job to Grundy in the hope that he might cheer the older man up. Sengupta never tries to steal the limelight or overplay his role, understanding that it is Dee’s Grundy who commands the audience’s attention and sympathy. Their interaction is a true highlight of the show, depicting the clash between old school and new thinking in the world of television.
One criticism would be the use of video clips and stills during the show. Right at the beginning the Thames television logo appeared on a projector screen, accompanied by the jingle, and then there was nothing until the very end of the performance when a montage of The Sex Pistols and television static flashed on and off-screen during Grundy’s final outburst. It was confusing and disorientating and deflected the audience’s attention away from what Grundy was saying. The director was asked about it during the Q&A session that followed the play, and he explained that the stills were meant to symbolise the images in Grundy’s head as he recalled his past. The audience was in agreement that visual aids were not necessary – both actors did a brilliant job without them and it was obvious when the events on stage were taking place, despite the lack of lighting cues.
This labour of love by Tim Connery deserves all the praise it receives. His writing is witty and heartfelt, making a past event feel fresh and relevant to modern-day divides between young and old. A joy from start to finish!