The thought that has gone into styling this production of Afterglow is evident from the mobile phone announcement at the beginning of the show; a languid, husky, voice reminds us to sweep our fingers lovingly across the blank screens to turn them off as the naked men really don’t want us to take photos of them. And naked they are for quite some time, which, as it turns out, isn’t that much of a hardship to watch.
Alex (Victor Hugo) and Josh (Peter McPherson) are married and expecting a child via a surrogate. Their relationship is playful, loving and supportive. Excitedly they discuss vegetable names reflecting the size of the foetus, nervous of committing to a real name too soon.
They have an open marriage and trust each other. Anything is fine as long as there are no sleepovers. The extent of this trust is obvious from the first scene as three actors simulate sex in silhouette behind a curtain in the middle of the stage. The third man is Darius, played outstandingly by James Nicholson. Although Darius has sex with both Alex and Josh initially, it is Josh that forms the closest bond with him and they continue to develop considerably more of a relationship than just sex. Boundaries are pushed to breaking point and people are hurt with irrevocable consequences.
I think the marketing for Afterglow does it a disservice. Inevitably there are certain expectations when three extremely fit and attractive men have lots of sex with each other, but this is a cleverly written and nuanced script that is relevant across most long term relationships, regardless of sexual preference. Maintaining a lengthy partnership with someone is not straightforward: love is easy, relationships are work. Domestic bliss requires commitment and the allure of guilt-free sex with someone else is naïve as emotional entanglement results. To quote directly from the piece, we are “paralysed by the illusion of choice”. The lightest of touches are applied to portray annoyances experienced: a mention of laundry neglected, the resulting conflict when space is requested to process work frustrations. This is a piece that has been well edited: 90 minutes straight through is nonetheless an emotional rollercoaster.
Ann Beyersdorfer has created an outstanding, almost cinematic set. A mere raised square surrounded on three sides by the audience is stylish and transforms from bedroom to roof terrace and massage room easily with nothing more than excellent lighting and minimal props. Not to mention an ingenious shower. The careful choreography employed as the three actors move through their pieces, including sex, results in achingly beautiful, sensuous movement which contrasts neatly with the tautness and emotional devastation of the final scene. The triangular placement of the three actors sees Josh alone with his emotions as Alex and Darius sit on the floor, in separate aisles, contemplating him.
All acting is strong but special mention to Nicholson as Darius quietly conveys the fragility and isolation of his position.
A well thought through piece, this performance embodies the ever-conflicting reality of love and relationships, and a cross-demographic desire to belong.
List of creatives
Produced by: Midnight Theatricals
Written by: S. Asher Gelman
Directed by: S. Asher Gelman
Set designer: Ann Beyersdorfer
Afterglow is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 10th February 2024.
Further information and bookings can be found here.