Review - Afterglow at Southwark Playhouse
This import of a gay-themed play from Off-Broadway is quite an eyeful, in every sense. The poster and production photography already lead you into an expectation that there will be three buff men in various states of undress; and for once, there's plenty of truth in advertising.
And S. Asher Gelman's play isn't coy: it opens with a full-on sex scene as a long-established married gay couple introduce a third party pick-up into their bedroom, and all three actors emerge from underneath the sheets in the buff. They take an onstage shower (the last London revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had Jack O'Connell doing the same thing to a big box office return).
Of course it's prurient, but at least the play gets it out of the way right at the top. And Tom O'Brien's production is at least not coy but makes the nudity entirely naturalistic and relaxed.
But after this highly sexualised opening, the play springs a bigger surprise: that it's actually about a search for emotional nakedness, as it settles into a searching and smart examination of the pain and perils of an open "thruple" gay relationship, and how passion and intimacy can't be so easily compartmentalised as they hope their apparent freedom to play around allows them.
Josh (Sean Hart) is a 35-year-old theatre director, married to Alex (Danny Mahoney), a researcher, and they are seeking to become parents. So far, so modern, as they bring 25-year-old Darius (Jesse Fox), a professional masseur, into their bedroom for a casual three-way hook-up.
But when Josh and Darius immediately set a return date for the next afternoon, without Alex present, the stage is set for a more complex unravelling; and so it quickly proves. Some of this may seem pretty obvious, even cliched. Indeed some of the dialogue matches it: "Love is easy, relationships take work."
Yet I was still absorbed and occasionally challenged, too, as the three actors brought an openness and a moving vulnerability of feeling to where each character stood in relation to the others.
Yes, they inhabit a slick and youthful gay world where their good looks give them immense currency; but there's still plenty to identify with as they variously wrestle with states of depression and abandonment, lust and longing.