There’s a moment when you know, isn’t there? That, however inconvenient, you’ve fallen in love. I think I feel a bit this way about Steven Kunis’ production of Afterglow. When Josh and Alex invite Darius into their bed, they think they’re just having a bit of fun. Fun for the theatregoer, too, as the three of them start completely naked, in flagrante, with enough abs, pecs, biceps and thighs on show that the audience could take home goody bags.
It’s an irony that, for all the talk of inner beauty, the casting rather undermines Darius’ complaint about the rise of dating apps. He minds that even when you’re on a date, the other person is on the lookout for someone hotter / taller / who chews more quietly. But these are not men who will be waiting long for their phones to buzz with a notification.
At one point, Josh bemoans that there are no fairy tales about polyamory for him to use as a guide for this experience. Perhaps the play is an attempt to show why that’s so.
No doubt the sight of hot men naked on stage is a draw for this production, yet it deserves a much broader viewership than something pigeon-holed as a ‘gay play’ might receive. While no doubt there is wider visibility of polyamory and open relationships in the queer community, the themes – what makes a marriage or family; whether you can love two people at once; if it’s fair to expect one person to deliver on all your needs – are surely universal.
It’s a testament to how well the cast make the parts their own that I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles. Treading carefully here – it’s good to see a diverse cast (much more so than the caucasian circle of the original, New York production), but sticking to the script meant that one of the most potent debates currently raging in the LGBT community – that of the acceptance, or not, of members of ethnic minorities – is lost. This is consciously a (gay) play that doesn’t mention HIV/AIDS, coming out or homophobia. Whilst it is fair to aspire to a world (and in doing so, portray one) without these tropes ever-present in the mind, for many queer people of colour acceptance remains a pipe dream.
Ultimately though, what elevates this production to a must-see isn’t a consistently punchy script (there are a couple of wordy debates in need of a trim), but the strength of the performances. Adi Chugh as bubbly, passionate, excitable Josh propels the piece forward with such joy you can’t help but forgive him his misdemeanours. Stern, steady Alex is portrayed with such sensitivity and intensity by Peter McPherson that I was waiting for him to explode at any moment. And Benjamin Aluwihare brings a sweet lightness to naive yet already-in-heartache Darius – a warning about how even the young can sense the cruelty of the world we’ve created.
This is a play which presents easy answer to complex questions… then just when you’re comfortable with them tears these down. So much changes with the shift of a facial expression, the turn of a moment of silence, that I was gripped from start to finish.
Review by Ben Ross
After it’s sold-out run at Southwark Playhouse, AFTERGLOW transfers to Waterloo East Theatre for a limited season.
Josh and Alex are in an open married relationship. But after young Darius shares their bed for a night, a new intimate connection begins to form, and all three men must search for one another’s notions of love, intimacy, and commitment. Will their search for passion and intimacy come as easily as their freedom to play around?
Heading under the shower together as Josh and Alex, a married couple in an open relationship who invite masseur Darius to share their bed for one night with far reaching consequences for them all, are Benjamin Aluwihare, Adi Chugh and Peter McPherson, with Kane Surry as understudy for all three roles.
Aaron Quintana and Justin Coffman
by S. Asher Gelman