REVIEW: ‘Afterglow’ – Southwark Playhouse

Brian Butler January 21, 2024

To quote Woody Allen, quoting poet Emily Dickinson: “the heart wants what the heart wants.” And that’s the dilemna at the centre of S. Asher Gelman’s marvellous play Afterglow, which gets a second production after its original outing at Southwark Playhouse pre-Covid..

Though the concept of polyamory has gained more acceptance, the play still shocks and the audience on the night I saw it, oohed and aahed and had sharp intakes of breath at key revelations.

The basic premise seems straightforward: it’s possible to love two men at the same time in different ways. Alex (Victor Hugo) and Josh (Peter McPherson) open the play as an apparently happily married couple living in Manhattan and awaiting the birth of their surrogate baby.

Josh is the instigator of the chaos and heartbreak that ensues when he invites male masseur Darius (James Nicholson) to join them for a threesome. What develops, as inevitably as a Greek tragedy, is an uneven playing field of sex, love, affection, dissatisfaction, need and jealousy that unravels the three lives.

There are nude scenes aplenty in this new version directed by the writer himself and based on his own life experiences. But the choreography has now become a major feature of the action and the sex scenes are balletic as well as sensual, without a hint of prurience or inappropriateness.

Yes, there’s plenty of eye candy, but the thought processes in the storyline are far more interesting – honest! Victor Hugo brilliantly portrays Alex’s growing uneasiness with the relationships, and a spiralling sense of inequality and separation from his husband. McPherson is far more visceral, driven by sexual energy, and then unable to cope with the consequences.

There is a mesmerising moment when he sits naked, cross-legged on a table under a shower cascading beautifully lit water on his head and is lost to the reasoning world. Jamie Roderick’s lighting is stunning throughout and Ann Beyesdorfer’s simple but ever-changing set design adds momentum to the spiralling plot.

James Nicholson gives us a delightfully camp and naive Darius who is equally damaged by the fallout and feels that reaching 25 is a major milestone in life.

The ending, when it comes after 90 minutes, is sharp, sudden and thoroughly believable. What I left the theatre wondering was: “what happens in six months or a years’ time?” Sequel please, Mr Gelman.

Aftergow runs at Southwark Playhouse until February 10. Tickets HERE

Photography by The Other Richard