At the beginning of After Liverpool, two members of the audience are invited to toss a coin, to see which actor will play which character. Two pairs of romantic partners ask each other awkward questions – anything from “Do you want an apple?” (it’s the last one in the house), to “Do you see me as a sexual object?” At the beginning, I think, they must have told us the wrong thing. This must be Games they’re doing first – after all, it’s wall-to-wall mind games, and there’s no mention of Liverpool anywhere.
After Liverpool is amusing, in a very Stoppardian way – lots of people talking very fast at each other and going round in circles – and it’s good, for its own sake. It’s clever, performed with great comic timing by a cast with an ear for the dialogue. The play itself is a hell of a find – I’d never heard of playwright James Saunders before, and now I want to know everything else he’s ever written. If at points it feels a bit like (forgive me) old-people conversations being had by young people (told you so), it’s still great fun to watch. You either love or loath this kind of humour, and it’s right up my street.
But while the characters of After Liverpool played games amongst themselves, Games – the second play – is played with the audience. This one is significantly more meta – part discussion of how to tell difficult, emotive stories, and part examination of the relationships between actor and audience, and actor and actor. Sitting with a notebook on my lap in the corner, I feel personally skewered now and again – but rightly so and all in good fun. For something that could easily tip over into clever-dick theatre, it’s extremely well-judged, and again, the timing is excellent. By the end, I don’t quite trust the curtain call. As I leave, I’m not even sure if I trusted the occasional bit of corpsing. Fans of second- and third-guessing, this one’s emphatically for you.
Between the verbal sparring of After Liverpool and the light-footed rhetorical twistiness of Games, it’s easy to see why they were placed together – they make a great and very well-executed double bill. This is well worth an hour of your lunchtime.
Games and After Liverpool runs until 28th August at the Underbelly Med Quad, 11:55.