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Southwark Playhouse

Afterglow
3.0Reviewer's Rating

As a one night threesome develops into a consensual affair between one husband and a younger man, three men explore the meaning of love, passion and romance in the city. Josh (Sean Hart) and Alex (Danny Mahoney) are the couple, Darius (Jesse Fox) the third party.

By the end of the play, I found myself wondering if I cared at all about any of them, and the answer was “not much”. If they hadn’t been having the love triangle the play is based on, they would have had absolutely nothing to say for themselves or to the audience. And other people’s sex just isn’t interesting enough to be the sole basis of a play. As it turns out, it was based on the writer’s own experience, and that makes a certain amount of self-indulgent sense.

The play starts on a sex scene, and rarely shies away from nudity and sexual acts. What at first may have felt transgressive – penises everywhere! – eventually just felt like an attempt to distract from the thinness of the drama.

The staging was somewhat odd. The set was overly complicated with furniture that had to be broken apart and made up by the actors between each scene and this became like watching a porn version of the Ikea catalogue. This broke up the drama for too long too often and if they can find a way to streamline this, they should.

There are definitely interesting concepts explored in Afterglow. The permission structure of the affair is examined in detail and has some interesting things to say about where lines can and should be drawn and how inevitably they are crossed. As someone who has been affected by consensual non-monogamy, I felt the impact not just on the three protagonists but also on others in their lives might have added depth. There is a baby spoken of throughout the play, but little regard is given either to the moral questions around surrogacy (which to be fair should and could be a whole other play) or to the impact on the child of the emotional drama of their fathers.

There are elements of the power struggle between the three that is separate from their sexual relations. The third party is much younger, poorer and less connected than the couple and we see how he struggles with this. For me this was one of the more interesting elements of the play.

The cast are good but not great. They – like the play – look fabulous, but don’t always bring the depth that a play about love should require. Again, this is all shiny surfaces and lube and I couldn’t lose that sense that there wasn’t much more to it than that. I keep coming back to the Stonewall slogan “some people are gay, get over it.” If these characters weren’t gay, would this play be considered groundbreaking? On the other hand, given the rise in hate crimes, perhaps it is a revolutionary act to celebrate these relationships warts, vacuity and all. That’s something I am still unsure as to the answer and as such am willing to err on the side of praise. At this time, we probably all need to be a bit kinder to each other.

This is a superficially pleasing play about superficial and not particularly pleasant people. It was pleasing enough, but it didn’t leave me with an afterglow.

  • Drama
  • By S. Asher Gelman
  • Directed by Tom O'Brien
  • Cast includes: Jesse Fox, Sean Hart, Danny Mahoney
  • Southwark Playhouse
  • Until 20th July 2019

About The Author

Editorial team and reviewer (UK)

Emma Burnell is a freelance journalist writing about politics and theatre. She has her own blog on immersive theatre (Soakedindreams.com). Emma recently completed an MA in Journalism and has worked in communications for think tanks and pressure groups for fifteen years.

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