Tag Archives: Justin Nardella

AFTERGLOW

★★★★

Southwark Playhouse Borough

AFTERGLOW at Southwark Playhouse Borough

★★★★

“Stylistic scene changes and some beautifully choreographed moments lend a filmic quality”

Rarely does the phrase ‘the tea has gone cold’ carry such metaphorical and emotional clout. Spoken silently, almost subliminally, it is a pivotal moment. One of many that distance S. Asher Gelman’s “Afterglow” from the expectations created by the packaging and promo shots. There is a lot of baring of bodies, but the baring of souls waits until the clothes are back on.

Alex (Victor Hugo) and Josh (Peter McPherson) are a thirty-something married couple, about to have a baby via a surrogate mother. Comfortably off, they can afford the hedonism that fills the hours away from their respective jobs. Their epicurean sensibilities allow them to conduct an open relationship, albeit with rules and boundaries. When a younger Darius (James Nicholson) crosses the threshold, those boundaries are broken. The inner consequences are what this play is all about rather than the highly toned, lust-inducing flesh that triggers the landslide.

Gelman, who also directs and choreographs the piece, sets the mood from the outset. Three figures writhe; mere silhouettes behind a curtain of white gauze like some kind of human lava lamp. Evocative and mysterious until the curtain drops, and the mystique vanishes, giving way to post coital banter that introduces the three characters. They use the words well to establish themselves, creating an easy rapport and a sizzling chemistry that burns the sweat off their torsos. But once the hierarchy is laid down, it does drift for a while into familiar armchair philosophy and tried-and-tested discussions of love, loyalty, trust and commitment.

But once the exposition is out of the way, the performances cut into the raw emotion of their characters. The three actors are equally impressive in their portrayal of the complexities of this love triangle. The tugs of war between conflicting needs are evoked through tone and mannerism as well as language. Stylistic scene changes and some beautifully choreographed moments lend a filmic quality – a gloss that is chipped away the more the harmony of the relationships crumble. Loyalties are tested to the extreme, and secrets uncovered as we go along. The freedom these characters seemingly possess is perversely more of a shackle than monogamous commitment.

Ann Beyersdorfer’s cleverly changeable set, and Jamie Roderick’s dynamic lighting together create a slick, gay world. Although this is not necessarily gay theatre because the writing would work equally well with any combination of gender or disposition. The explicitness is somehow less shocking, however, in the setting of a young, male, gay threesome than it perhaps would have been in other configurations. One wonders: would this show court more controversy if the protagonists were mixed genders, or women? It is a moot point though. What matters is the honesty of the story being told, and Hugo, McPherson and Nicholson have the strength and talent to bring it to life. Beneath the promiscuity is a dignity and vulnerability. A deep-seated need just to ‘belong’.

An afterglow is what remains when the light has disappeared. The word is often misappropriated to be used as something that is desirable. To be basked in. “Afterglow” questions this concept with a finely tuned look at human relationships and the consequences of our actions. What remains when trust has disappeared? When the damage is done, and everything has changed? There are many lines crossed before the question is raised, and even then, the play can’t answer it. But it is definitely worth going to see it try.


AFTERGLOW at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Reviewed on 22nd January 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard

 

 

Previously reviewed at Southwark Playhouse venues

UNFORTUNATE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF URSULA THE SEA WITCH A MUSICAL PARODY | ★★★★ | December 2023
GARRY STARR PERFORMS EVERYTHING | ★★★½ | December 2023
LIZZIE | ★★★ | November 2023
MANIC STREET CREATURE | ★★★★ | October 2023
THE CHANGELING | ★★★½ | October 2023
RIDE | ★★★ | July 2023
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS … | ★★★★★ | May 2023
STRIKE! | ★★★★★ | April 2023
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH | ★★★★ | March 2023
SMOKE | ★★ | February 2023
THE WALWORTH FARCE | ★★★ | February 2023
HAMLET | ★★★ | January 2023

AFTERGLOW

AFTERGLOW

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The Sugar House

The Sugar House

★★★★

Finborough Theatre

The Sugar House

The Sugar House

Finborough Theatre

Reviewed – 5th November 2021

★★★★

 

“it’s hard to find fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful”

 

In light of this week’s #FreeLunchGate, I’d first like to say I was given a small plastic cup of house white at the beginning of the show. Despite this glamourous perk, I will do my best to give a balanced and fair review…

The Finborough Theatre is not a large theatre. In its current layout, it can seat 40, maybe 50 at a push. So to have a cast of six for such a little audience feels very exclusive, particularly after the seeming endless spate of one-person plays in the last year. It’s a real joy to see a full cast interacting, laying out their various intimacies and tensions. The stage is pretty tight, but The Sugar House is a family drama, and the small space only emphasises the family dynamics, sometimes chaotic, sometimes conspiratorial, the audience sat right in the lap of the action.

This is ostensibly a story about the Macreadies, a working-class family in 1960s Australia who are struggling to get out from under, set against a backdrop of Australia’s last state execution and a long unending fight against police corruption.

But it’s universal in its particularity, exploring problems of generational poverty, endemic hypocrisy and modern society’s love of destroying the old in favour of the new and expensive. And at its core, it’s about how painful and drawn-out real change necessarily is.

Director Tom Brennan has brought together a strong, scrappy cast. Everyone carries a double-edge of deep misery and wry humour throughout the script, and though I’m no expert in Australian accents, I didn’t hear a single bum note throughout, something I’d otherwise find incredibly distracting.

Janine Ulfane, playing the grandmother, gives an especially complex performance. Her character is loveable but deeply flawed, and Ulfane deftly explores all the varying shades between. Jessica Zerlina Leafe, playing the granddaughter Narelle, carries the main weight of the play, opening in the ‘present day’ as an adult, morphing in to her eight-year-old self in the ‘60s, eventually becoming an angry belligerent twenty-six-year-old in the ‘80s. It is a little bit jarring watching an adult play an eight-year-old for nigh on an hour, but given the quick changes and multi-decade-spanning timeline, I can see why Leafe has to play the child as well as the adult.

Justin Nardella’s design is necessarily simple, but doesn’t feel at all lacking. A white brick wall with a mulled window acts as both a versatile set-piece and a projection wall, showing footage of Ronald Ryan, the last man to hang in Australia, as well as the cogs and wheels of the old sugar house, where Narelle’s grandpa worked, and various other titbits. A desk and two fold-out chairs serve any other prop requirements for the most part, leaving space to focus on the cast whose number already nearly clutters the stage.

There are no superfluous scenes, or boring chunks of dialogue, nonetheless, writer Alana Valentine could do with cutting twenty minutes, just for pace’s sake. Otherwise, it’s hard to find fault in this production. Forceful, despairing and, I don’t mind admitting, quite tearful.

 

Reviewed by Finborough Theatre

Photography by Pamela Raith

 


The Sugar House

Finborough Theatre until 20th November

 

Other review from Miriam this year:
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Reunion | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
My Son’s A Queer But What Can You Do | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | June 2021
Lava | ★★★★ | Bush Theatre | July 2021
The Narcissist | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
Aaron And Julia | ★★½ | The Space | September 2021
White Witch | ★★ | Bloomsbury Theatre | September 2021
Tender Napalm | ★★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | October 2021

 

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