Waterloo East Theatre
Reviewed – 22nd October 2019
“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.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Darren Bell
Waterloo East Theatre until 24th November
Previously reviewed at this venue:
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: