Waterloo East Theatre, London – 24 November 2019
Following a run at the Southwark Playhouse, Afterglow has transferred to the Waterloo East Theatre. I understand that this production (new cast, new director, new venue) is quite different from the original Southwark Playhouse run, but as I didn’t see it you’ll be spared any unnecessary theatre geek comparisons.
Firstly, just to get this out of the way, yes there is male nudity. Actually a fair amount of male nudity, but this nakedness feels natural within the context of the play. They aren’t just stripping off for no apparent reason. And all three actors are very beautiful, so aesthetically the show doesn’t disappoint. For anyone thinking of going for more shallow reasons, just do it, you’ll love it.
However to reduce Afterglow to “that show with the naked men and sex scenes” would be to do it a massive disservice. Sex and sexual appetite sit at the heart of this play, which examines the dangers of open relationships, when emotions inevitably get complicated.
The play opens with a threesome. Straight in there with an energetic sex scene. Josh and Alex are a married couple, and Darius has joined them in bed. We discover that this is Darius’ first time with them. Josh and Alex, on the other hand seem to enjoy an open and active relationship, and you get the sense they’ve been together a very long time. However, their lifestyle is about to change, as they are expecting a baby through a surrogate.
What S. Asher Gelman has achieved with Afterglow is a thoughtful and nuanced piece of theatre that addresses the challenge of maintaining a relationship through life-change, as well as managing imbalanced sexual appetite within an established couple. I’m surprised that it isn’t a subject that is explored more often, as I know quite a few couples who struggle with this, and they’re probably the tip of the iceberg. What do you do when your partner needs more sex than you are willing or able to provide? What if you need more sex than you can get in your relationship? An open relationship seems like such a simple solution. What could go wrong?
Peter McPherson gives a strong performance as Alex, who is the most well developed character within the piece. He is happy for his husband Josh (played with a wonderful puppy like energy by Adi Chugh) to continue to have sexual encounters with Darius (Benjamin Aluwihare gives a convincingly youthful and naive performance) without him.
McPherson particularly shines in the moments when the tone of the play starts to shift, and we see flashes of Alex’s pain at his realisation that Josh is developing feelings for Darius. While Josh and Darius are also very well played, there is less of an emotional connection with these characters. Josh seems selfish and manipulative, and I couldn’t get a sense of how he actually feels about imminent fatherhood. Everything seems like a game to him. I didn’t learn enough about Darius to connect with him either, which feels like a missed opportunity as there is a sweetness to him, but there are also a fair few things that don’t quite add up about his lifestyle and are never really explained.
However, despite these omissions, the overall emotional impact of the play feels fully realised, and the pacing kept me engaged across the 90 minute running time (no interval). There are a lot of scene changes, but they are managed in a way that continues to drive forward our characters’ emotional journeys. I personally really like it when no stage time is wasted. Steven Kunis’ direction feels dynamic and smart, and makes the most of Libby Todd’s design, as well as his talented cast.
Afterglow is booking until 24th November 2019. The recommended age is 18+ as the show contains strong language and nudity.