'After Life' attempts to bring clarity to death in a grand-yet-inconsistent production
What is the one memory you would like to take from your mortal life into the beyond? This is the question that Jack Thorne’s latest play After Life poses for its audience and its characters, as the story explores the confines and escapism of memory and reality in death.
Adapted from the film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, After Life is a co-production between the National Theatre and Headlong, that adventurous company known for inventive works like People, Places, and Things, The Nether, and more. After Life has a lot of the flare and flourish of these productions with gorgeous design by Bunnie Christie (sets and costumes), Neil Austin (lighting), Tom Gibbons (sound), and Max Spielbichler (video), but the circumstance doesn’t quite match the pomp.
The premise, from the film and further concepted by director Jeremy Herrin, Christie, and Thorne, explores what would happen when one passes on. This after-life scenario encompasses a series of “guides” and “guided individuals,” who have just died and have a week to decide their lasting memory so the guides can essentially stage manage that scenario and send them off into eternity.
When one of the guides (a charming Luke Thallon) connects with Hirokazu Mochizuki (Togo Igawa, in an emotional performance), the potential of a rift in the system surfaces; however, it leads to a more saccharine resolution, rather than true drama. The proceedings seem more slice-of-life (or slice of after life), which doesn’t seem cohesive with director Herrin’s grand and thunderous staging.
There are beautiful moments and intimate details, and Herrin crafts stunning stage pictures and transitions as the characters relive some of their happiest moments on Earth. I definitely found myself reflecting on what memories I would like to take with me, and how we define and consider happiness in small and big moments.
After a year of so much grief and loss, it also feels particularly loaded and wrought to reflect on what the world might hold for us and our loved ones after our final breath and even in the moments we share here, and After Life does offer a kind of peace and resolution that these small interactions are what’s been important the whole time. However, I’m just not sure how much comfort can be given when so many things are left unsaid and questions are left unanswered.