‘Classy but slow production’: AFTERGLOW – Southwark Playhouse ★★★

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Southwark Playhouse – until 20 July 2019

We start with a triple simultaneous orgasm. I’d say that’s pretty innovative, because it would take considerable stage managing.

On stage love triangles, though, are far from new. Noel Coward shocked theatregoers with a bisexual menage à trois in Design for Living in 1932, and the thing it has in common with Asher Gelman’s Afterglow is that they both premiered in New York before London.

Afterglow is self-consciously a ‘gay play’. There is modernity in its Manhattanite married couple expecting a surrogacy baby and involving a young masseur in their sex life and the characters are a bit self-regarding but nice enough. They’re fit and lean and dress and undress so often it’s like a catwalk show at Banana Republic with live sex – but it’s predictable what happens when the third wheel falls for one of the pair.

I must admit to a bit of déjà vu because I met my first long-term partner in a threesome. Although in West Croydon rather than the West Village.

I’d been invited for the weekend and didn’t know until I got there too late for a train home that it was to spice up a flagging romance. To be honest I felt a bit used, so being 25 and impossibly cute, I picked one of them and broke them up. As revenges go, it backfired because we lived together for 12 years, half of which were dreary – although the monotony and the monogamy probably saved my life during the AIDS crisis of the early 80s.

Still, it would have made for a more complex plot than Afterglow. There’s a lot of wordy, worthy discussion – Coward had to wait seven years for the British censor to approve his script, but there’s nothing in Gelman’s to shock or offend. Basically what’s explored is the hypocrisy of married couples who think it’s OK to involve single men in their physical lives without caring that they don’t get any emotional fulfilment. So many men, even as young as the Darius character in the play are becoming the Bridget Joneses of the gay world, used until discarded by ‘smug marrieds’.

All three actors – Sean Hart, Jesse Fox and Danny Mahoney – are splendidly well-focused and have authentic New York inflections: the sex involves a lot of energetic shoulder-grabbing and closed-mouth kissing so it’s more representative than raunchy, and you soon discard any prurience at seeing them naked.

It is a classy production but still slow, and because every scene change is like cleaning up after a particularly acrobatic shag, there are more pauses and longeurs than you might wish.

But at least it’s not seven hours like The Inheritance.

until 20 July

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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he now writes mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites. He blogs independently at www.johnnyfox.london.
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Johnny Fox
‘Johnny Fox’ studied Theatre at Lancaster University and Journalism at City before realising there was no money in either profession and concentrating instead on interior design for investment banks in Singapore, New York and Moscow. Back home, he now writes mostly about theatre, mostly in London, for arts and events websites. He blogs independently at www.johnnyfox.london.

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