Reviewed – 11th June 2019
“shortcomings are largely made up for by three exceptional performances from the cast”
S. Asher Gelman notes that polyamory is a subject that’s seldom broached in art, and he’s not wrong. Luckily, his play Afterglow is here to remedy that, following a successful Off-Broadway run in 2017 and 2018, which bravely gives a voice and a platform to an often ignored or stigmatised type of relationship.
Centred around husbands Josh (Sean Hart) and Alex (Danny Mahoney), Afterglow explores the impact that Darius (Jesse Fox) has on their open marriage when their friends-with-benefits arrangement starts to develop into something much heavier with Josh, leaving Alex feeling excluded. The play’s frank attitude towards sex (it opens with a threesome and features a significant amount of full-frontal nudity) allows for a poignant and thought-provoking interrogation of love, intimacy, jealousy, and trust in non-traditional relationships.
Although Gelman’s script doesn’t always feel like it’s taking these themes are far as it could, however, it is well-paced and sporting a heft of relatable and quirky dialogue (for example, a running gag where Josh and Alex refer to their forthcoming surrogate child by the fruit that the foetus is currently the size of). The mechanics of the writing can be a little too obvious, as one character will contrive a reason to leave the stage just so that the other two can remain alone; yet it also never feels like Gelman pulls each thread enough to facilitate a truly satisfying climax. These shortcomings are largely made up for by three exceptional performances from the cast though, as the detail and nuance that their portrayals bring exacerbate the core themes in multifaceted ways. Hart and Mahoney deliver a beautiful domestic intimacy in their scenes together, with Hart in particular embodying Josh with a hugely endearing playfulness – one moment in which Josh mockingly hides from Alex under the pillows of a couch is utterly delightful. Tom O’Brien’s direction utilises instances such as these to excellent effect in fulling fleshing out these characters’ lives.
Libby Todd’s set design is immensely detailed – to the extent that it even features a functioning shower – with just three tables being boundlessly multi-purposed and garnished with a whole deluge of props. If anything, it’s too detailed though, as scene changes felt extraordinarily long with all the table-rearranging and set-dressing that had to take place. This was mired further by the fact that – due to the aforementioned nudity – these transitions also featured the actors having to get dressed and undressed. There was a noted effort to make these scene changes character driven, but they ultimately just felt fiddly and arduous, and subsequently killed the pace of the show.
Overall, Afterglow is a window into a lifestyle that is sorely under-represented and on that basis alone feels vital – it’s just a blessing that the play is also searingly characterful and ruminative too.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by Darren Bell
Southwark Playhouse until 20th July
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: