“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.
“Not only does ‘F. Off’ talk about issues, it lays them out for you, right in front of your face”
The National Youth Theatre has been the home of the best young talent in the country, and ‘F.Off’ demonstrates this in spades. It is an interactive theatrical gem, putting Facebook’s creator Mark Zuckerberg on trial in front of the people. Well, Zuckerberg doesn’t actually make an appearance, but an excitable audience member takes his place. The play exposes the disturbing truth behind algorithms, social media and politics. Did you know that the average person shares 27,000 pieces of data on their profile? Did you know that you can be tracked even if you don’t use Facebook? All of these facts bubble to the surface through improvised interactions with audience members. Masterful directorial decisions are made in this piece, (Paul Roseby and Meghan Doyle) such as asking a viewer if they can look on their Facebook page in real time and tell the audience what information it gives away. Not only does ‘F. Off’ talk about issues, it lays them out for you, right in front of your face.
The stage design (Libby Todd) captures the central metaphor of the play, as said in one of the first lines of text: ‘Why build a net unless you want to catch something?’. The stage has a bare frame, covered in blue netting that ensnares various props as the drama progresses. Every detail, from the set to the direction, has been thoroughly thought-through and has a clear purpose.
There is potential for a show on this topic to become preachy and overly-didactic. However, the three main storylines display the effects of the internet in a variety of ways: through a political campaign, the effect the campaign has on the politician’s child, and the courtroom itself. The ensemble is strong in terms of characterisation and movement (Tim Jackson). Stylised physical theatre sections move the action along between scenes, building a sense of growing momentum. Amelia Braithwaite’s performance of the politician’s daughter is of particular note as she portrays the typical adolescent struggle of trying to fit in, with authenticity and nuance. The ensemble uses music for comedic effect, keeping in line with the tongue-in-cheek tone used throughout. A highlight of this is their adaption of Stevie Wonder’s classic anthem ‘Superstition’, with new lyrics about reading the ‘Terms and Conditions’, as a viewer signs away their freedom.
‘F. Off’ tows the line between informative content and comedic delivery, while remaining attentive to the quality of the storytelling. This piece of theatre should be viewed with no less validity and merit than the adult shows produced by the same company. I can’t wait to see what this bunch of budding actors goes on to do next.
Reviewed by Emily Morris
Underbelly Cowgate until 25th August as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2019