Tuesday, 11 June 2019

REVIEW: Afterglow at the Southwark Playhouse


Afterglow was only meant to run for an 8 week limited engagement in New York, after having extended numerous times and finally playing for 14 months it finally comes over to London in a newly staged production at the Southwark Playhouse. 

Following the story of married couple Josh and Alex, who are soon to be welcoming a child into their household, we see their open marriage in its bare bones played out on stage with the addition of Darius, a boy who once only came over for a threesome, become a centre part of their relationship. 

What the play asks us is what is a ‘normal’ marriage or relationship? How do we make compromises but still try to remain happy within ourselves and in our partnership? It leaves us with these questions that we, as an audience, leave trying to pick a side and make things right in our heads. 

What is so fantastic about the writing, by S. Asher Gelman, is that we get to really know every single one of the characters and we want them all to come out with a happy ending. The way the play finished is just a brilliant ending, opening it out to us and leaving us with no answer. Its a judgement free piece of work and he is not saying anything is right or wrong but is showing us how people minds work and what people need to survive. 

Recently we’ve seen so much over social media about homophobic attacks; from the two women on the bus to the cast of Rotterdam touring their show to politicians wanting to strip the LQBTQ+ community of their human rights. This play strips back the typical ‘gay themes’ tackled in theatre and puts a situation in front of you where the three characters could literally be anyone, proving that being gay is just another part of who you are, not the be all and end all. 

The cast are fantastic; Jesse Fox gives a very sweet and radiating performance as Darius, Danny Mahoney is a pillar of strength within the production and pulls on your heart strings and Sean Hart gives a truthful and honest performance, amongst some incredibly talented cast mates he is the stand out. Although the cast were fantastic together and delivered this play so wonderfully there is one thing that bothers me; they’re all very attractive, muscled, model looking men. This play breaks so many conventions in queer theatre yet the casting remains stuck. Absolutely justified in their performances, but is this a true representation of the peoples lives who will be coming to see this show? 

This also goes for the nudity in the production, although once you’ve got over the first scene you kind of forget about it but it still lingers throughout the production and I didn’t feel like all of it was justified or needed. Are we just giving the gays what they want or are we serving the story? That is a question that needs to be asked. 

The other thing that felt slightly disjointed were the scene changes, in a very exposed environment like this theatre its hard to hide. The amount of set they were moving and the amount of time it took was just too much. I started to turn off and in a play that moves quite fast this isn’t what you want. The lighting and sound seemed to set up some kind of concept but this wasn’t followed through with the direction of the changes. 

In saying this, Afterglow is a brilliant piece of writing and is really a story that not only the queer community, but everyone should see to observe relationship behaviour. 

Afterglow breaks conventions and sets a new bar for the future of LGBTQ+ theatre, with top quality performances and a fantastically designed show.

Review by Mark Swale 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: D45 | Price of Ticket: £22

Production photography by Darren Bell
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