BWW Review: AFTERGLOW, Southwark Playhouse
Afterglow opens with a blaze of strobe lights, the throbbing pulse of dance music, and three naked lads writhing on a bed. Some groping and kissing later, they come up for air and a chat.
Josh (Sean Hart) and Alex (Danny Mahoney) are married, but their relationship is open. Darius (Jesse Fox) is single but smitten with his hosts, and their arrangement, and makes a date with Josh the following day.
Afterglow is, despite its extraordinary penis-per-minute ratio, a fairly conventional play. Things are going all right for Josh and Alex, who are expecting a baby by surrogate later this year, until a stranger appears and throws everything into disarray. Darius means well, but he offers Josh something Alex can't - attention. Josh, in turn, gives Darius the companionship he craves. And so an open relationship is opened a little too wide, and things fall apart.
For a cast of characters apparently so steeped in lust and attraction, the men of Afterglow are by and large a transactional lot. Josh gives Darius something he needs, Darius gives Josh something he needs; Alex doesn't want to take anything away, but he does, eventually, when he feels he needs to. And so on - the decisions in this play are driven by simple emotional calculations rather than deeper human passions.
Sex and love ought to be exciting, but in this show, they are drained of their energy and reduced to arithmetic. Othello doesn't pointedly suggest that Desdemona isn't meeting his needs, he strangles her out of passion. And that's what's missing, more than anything, from Afterglow - passion.
Passion, desire, longing: those words we use to describe feelings deeper, hotter, brighter than love and lust. "What makes you burn?" Josh asks Darius. The poor boy doesn't get a chance to answer, but I would be more interested in that thread - young people searching for their passions, sexual, romantic, or otherwise - than the messy but predictable love triangle that the story falls back on.
Fox, Hart and Mahoney all do fine work - the best, you could say, with what they've been given - at interpreting a script that offers them so little. It doesn't help that, under the direction of Tom O'Brien, at least a tenth of the show is dedicated to lengthy set changes, beds made, furniture rearranged, and showers - so many showers! - turning on and off.
It's a shame that amid the bed-top groping, sucking and groaning, the actual issue of open relationships is left on the table. Ethical non-monogamy, also called consensual non-monogamy, is a hot topic right now, and one well worth exploring through drama. More and more couples and individuals are experimenting with alternative relationship structures, including open relationships, throuples, and more - and all could probably benefit from, and would be happy to see, an honest depiction of their lives on stage.
But Afterglow isn't really about an open relationship, it's about a boy who likes a boy that isn't his husband. As the viewer sat next to me remarked, "If this show were written in the Thirties, it would be about two men and a woman, but it would still be the same - the same silly people making the same silly mistakes."
Photo by Darren Bell