Waterloo East Theatre, London – 24 November 2019
After a run at the Southwark Playhouse, S. Asher Gelman’s story of polyamory in modern American returns with a new cast.
I was intrigued to see this show; the marketing for it wouldn’t be out of place for a new branch of Chariots. It is unashamedly about male sexuality. The cast have perfect bodies and are conventionally attractive. On the surface it all seems a bit shallow. Do we need a play about men hoping to have lots of sex without consequences to their relationships with others and themselves?
I am shallow too and think we do. Not every production needs to be or can be Angels in America. Afterglow is not worthy of being taken too seriously but its attitude to sexuality and depicting it on stage is refreshing; as if someone said “We need soft porn on the stage” and Steven Kunis, in an adaptation of Tom O’Brien’s original direction completely delivers that aim.
If this was just a story about sex set to rave music it would be fine but it really fails to recognise the early and slightly gratuitous scenes between Alex (Peter McPherson), Josh (Adi Chugh) and Darius (Benjamin Aluwihare) are what the audience are here to see so when it gives way to – SHOCK – something resembling a story with issues the shallowness of the story becomes painfully obvious. Alex and Josh are married. Josh loves sex, Alex seems to like sex but not necessarily with Josh and Darius is collateral in this drama. I think the sex could have been better integrated in the story during its later stages.
Gelman fails to establish numerous things; why are Josh and Alex together? How did they get together? Who instigated the polyamory and why? Add in a baffling storyline about surrogacy (why do they only realise after the surrogate has got pregnant that their current lifestyle might not be compatible with their future one) then it all feels like a TV drama that wasn’t picked up by any major network. I don’t know these characters, can I really feel sorry for them?
The intimacy in the sex scenes works really well, though the use of an actual shower is overused, the intimacy when they are not having sex less so. Josh is inexplicably rich opening up productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alex does something involving chemisry but is the poor one and Darius has his own flat in New York despite having a limited amount of clients to masseuse (It is implied he isn’t a sex worker but who knows); we hear very little of their other friends. The interesting subject of polyamory and the rules of it are lost to melodrama.
There is great chemistry between the three and would be a much lesser production without these actors.. Adi Chugh is given a lot to do as Josh and makes an unlikable character garner some sympathy, he has the best intentions and as we all know that often leads straight to hell, or in this instance pain and tragedy, Peter McPherson as Alex, dealing with the fallout of not being able and not wanting to satisfy his husband as he seeks a different lifestyle gives this production some depth and gravitas it would otherwise be lacking and Darius, played by Benjamin Aluwihare, is a character lacking focus. I wish he had more of a backstory because when Aluwihare was given something dramatic he was a much better actor for it and I am glad this production has a more diverse cast than its New York and Southwark production.
Ultimately who ever cares what the story is. It does what it says on the tin. It offers explicit sex scenes that are rarely seen on this scale and knows its audience are going to love it.
Afterglow is on until 24 November 2019 waterlooeast.co.uk