Southwark Playhouse, London – until 20 July 2019
S. Asher Gelman’s play offers an insight into how complicated modern relationships can get – but doesn’t feel as convincing as it could do in this production.
Premiering in London following a hugely successful run Off-Broadway, S. Asher Gelman’s play explores what defines a ‘normal’ relationship and how to balance your life as an individual with being in a relationship as seen through the eyes of three men involved in an open relationship.
Alex and Josh are a married couple who have an open relationship. But when Darius enters their lives and becomes part of their relationship, soon Alex and Josh’s relationship comes under strain as Josh and Darius begin to grow closer. The main focus of the play being to see how each of three men adapt cope with being in this consensual open relationship – ultimately leading to heartbreak.
Which is the central problem about the play – from the second Darius is allowed to become part of Alex and Josh’s relationship, the audience can already predict the outcome of it all – suffice to say there is pain, jealousy and plenty of anger as well as love along the way. Conversations such as when Alex confronts Josh over his feelings towards Darius feel predictable – despite the excellent and heartfelt performances of the cast.
However, despite this it is fascinating to watch unfold because of the way in which it is not simply a story about gay men, it is a story that is universally relatable in terms of its themes that keep the audience thoroughly engaged. It also delivers in exploring each of the character’s perspectives and attitudes towards relationships in great detail as one scene in which Alex and Josh argue about wanting more of what they each want from their relationship highlights.
Tom O’Brien’s production is thoughtful and sensitive (even if there is an over reliance on nudity which can distract from the story) in the way it handles the story and characters – the audience can really see the effect that the situation begins to have on all of the characters. David Howe’s lighting captures the tender moments of the relationships beautifully, while Libby Todd’s adaptable set design is possibly too ambitious with some of the set changes taking slightly too long taking away from the energy of the piece.
Meanwhile, the performances of the cast contrast beautifully with one another. Jesse Fox’s sweet if slightly naive Darius has some lovely moments that really ring true – particularly when relationships begin to breakdown. Sean Hart as Josh offers a really insightful performance, capturing the character’s confusion about what he really wants, while Danny Mahoney delivers a raw and heartfelt performance as Alex, particularly when he feels like his relationship is slipping beyond his control.
Visually and in terms of performances this production has plenty to recommend it – it is just a shame that the play feels slightly predictable in what it has to say.
By Emma Clarendon
Afterglow continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 20th July.