“the energy peters out as the story, which is somewhat predictable, unfolds”
‘Afterglow’ first appeared at the Davenport Theater in New York and boasted the longest run the theatre had seen. Its UK premiere was at Southwark Playhouse, and now it is being reborn, here at the Waterloo East Theatre. It is a play about the possibilities of consensual non-monogamy, and the complication of love that stretches in too many directions.
The central characters are three men, but it avoids gay stereotypes – a purposeful decision by the writer not to talk about the AIDS crisis, coming out, homophobia and so on. In this way the story is a very universal one, a married couple, a younger lover, a decision to be made. We know this narrative well.
S. Asher Gelman certainly has a lovely knack for creating conversational dialogue, that feels based in reality. There is certainly a fascinating discussion to be had here, and the stage is a wonderful place for it, about the possibilities and challenges of non-monogamy. This play offers the beginnings of that, it just doesn’t quite get there. The play begins with an explosive start, in the midst of our characters’ first threesome together, but the energy peters out as the story, which is somewhat predictable, unfolds.
Peter McPherson plays Alex, the accommodating and then jealous husband left out of this new love. He is the strongest and most believable of a cast that is overall too weak to carry the production. In defence of the actors, the characters are predominantly one dimensional, but with the exception of McPherson’s performance, there is little to emotionally engage with onstage. The relationship between Darius (Benjamin Aluwihare) and Josh (Adi Chugh) lacks chemistry, and the accents of both these actors are off which is a constant distraction.
The versatile set (Libby Todd) which moves from bed to massage parlour to roof garden is clever in its possibility. The onstage shower is the jewel in its crown, a fantastic visual, filling the space with steam and water. Overlaying this is light (designed by David Howe) pouring through the shape of blinds or window panes, heavily evocative of so much cinema set in New York and so immediately transportive. As the set is changed, heavy beats punctuate, something that initially works really well but as the scene changes gets longer becomes a monotonous thud.
This is a subject matter that could create a really engaging drama onstage, but the production and its script, fail to meet this latent potential.
“audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers”
Billed as a show about people leaving their home in search of a brighter future, the producers of the Irish dance sensation Riverdance now bring us Heartbeat of Home. Playing at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End, this almost two hour dance extravaganza brings not just a high octane group of Irish dancers, but representatives from the dance traditions of flamenco, Latin, and street dancing as well. Add to that a vocalist, backed by a gospel choir, and a terrific group of onstage musicians, the danger is that this show has too much talent and not enough of a narrative to bring it all together in a coherent way.
It is left to the cyclorama to present the story of these dancers, and it must be said that this one works to spectacular effect. It portrays mostly sea scenes in the first half of the show, including a ship leaving the shores of home, and a scene of a dazzling storm at sea. In the second half, which focuses on the lives of the emigrants in their new home, the cyclorama focuses on a variety of cityscapes, but also one impressive trip across the rugged scenery of the western United States. One cityscape in the show pays tribute to the iconic photograph of iron workers taken by Charles Ebbets. Here the choreography and set projections on the cyclorama come together seamlessly to present death defying dancing that really does look as though the dancers are performing on a beam high above New York City. In Heartbeat of Home, the whole effect is a bit like being at an IMAX theatre with live music and dancing. The talents of lighting designer Peter Canning, set designer Alan Farquharson, set projection designer David Torpey, with additional set projections by David Mathias, are all used with mesmerising effect.
Not surprisingly, the main reason audiences will seek out Heartbeat of Home is for the dancing and the music. It is a treat to watch the dancers enjoy showing off not only the moves of their own traditions, but bringing off a few moves from each others’ traditions as well. But this “fusion dance” style works better in the second half than the first, as one might expect. And if the time on stage is always weighted heavily in favour of the Irish dancers, their breathtaking sequences are what keep the show moving forward, and the audience cheering and applauding. Ably assisted by featured dancers Maggie Darlington and Bobby Hodges, Irish dance Choreographer John Carey delivers the goods, and anyone who enjoyed Riverdance will not be disappointed by Heartbeat of Home. The dancing is admirably supported by a band of highly talented musicians who work together flawlessly to play composer Brian Byrne’s lively music. Under the direction of drummer Mark Alfred, the music is as varied as the dancing, but once again, it is the Irish soloists who put on a stunning display of virtuosity. Patrick Mangan plays like the All-Ireland fiddle supremo he is, and Cathal Croke is another champion on the uilleann pipes. Robbie Harris on the bodhrán drum holds the audience spellbound, and the dancers in constant motion.
Heartbeat of Home is more of a hybrid than a true descendant of Riverdance, although it has several recognisable features in common. Nevertheless, it offers a hugely enjoyable evening in the theatre, and audiences will love the upbeat energy and the showstopping artistry of these outstanding performers.