As press nights go, the one for Afterglow at The Southwark Playhouse was absolutely hyper. There was a palpable and undeniable buzz in the air, the bar was frenzied and the in-house photographer was manic at the step and repeat board. Graham Norton wafted by as we squeezed into the auditorium; the clever sound design by Joel Price gave us the voices and traffic of Manhattan greeting the audience as we took our seats which only served to raise the volume of the already wired audience.
I doubt, however, that their expectations were matched by the play itself.
The set by Libby Todd is both evocative and versatile – there is a bed centre stage, a stripped down brick wall, doors lead off to a bathroom and an entrance hall, and a window/skylight structure that all nods to a ‘Manhattan loft’.
Many plays, where sex or nudity is integral to the show, seem to start with vigorous shagging (e.g. Circa, Undetectable) and this play is no different but it is certainly the most vocal; they’re groanin’ and hollerin’!. We are treated to not just two, but three, incredibly lithe (oh … we are talking 0% body fat) very good looking young men in the throes of ecstasy. Each reaches their climax and then the lights change, and through some banter, we are introduced to Josh, Alex and Darius.
It is clear that Josh (theatre director) and Alex (scientist) are a couple and Darius is the younger (new in town) sexy guest for the night. There is a discussion of ground rules for the couple’s open relationship so we are not perturbed when Josh asks Darius for a more private hook up – just the two of them.
What unfolds over the next ninety minutes is an examination of the trials and tribulations of the modern gay couple; where the freedoms and advantages of a liberated sexual context are fully explored yet hampered and challenged by the discovery of personal limitations and conventional desires. The show is pleasant and really easy on the eye (not least during the onstage shower scenes) but the piece does not really challenge our notions of heteronormative relationship structures or the transformational power of queer love.
Sean Hart (Josh) and Danny Mahoney (Alex) do a great job as that slightly preppy type with all the arrogance of youth. Although they are physically quite similar, director Tom O’Brien works hard to delineate their characters and certain monologues give them some opportunity to break out of their mould; particularly the “Heart wants what the heart wants” speech by Josh which is infuriating and creepy at the same time.
Jesse Fox (Darius) provides the emotional heft and brings with him a stage presence that elevates his performance as well as serving the purpose of play – he needs to be bewitching enough to be a threat to the stability of the couple.
It is however difficult to care too much about a couple (who are inwardly a lot less attractive than they look under a shower) and a situation they all walk into open eyed and then get burned by not being truthful with themselves and each other.
UNTIL 20TH JULY 2019
REVIEW : JONNY WARD
Jonny Ward, Queerguru Contributing Editor is a drama graduate but has worked backstage for many years at venues such as The Royal Albert Hall, The 02, Southbank Centre and is currently at The National Theatre. He lives in Hoxton, London and is delighted to check out the latest, the hottest and the downright dodgy in queer culture for Queerguru. (P.S. He is currently single)