Theatre Review: Afterglow (Southwark Playhouse, London) ★★★½

Afterglow is sexy AF. You can debate the merits of its writing, its morality and the staging all you like, but there is no denying that this is the sexiest show in London right now.

Production Photos by Darren Bell

A hit off-Broadway, Afterglow has come to London in a new production filling one of the city’s larger off-West-End venues, the Southwark Playhouse. A cast of three handsome actors, naked from the beginning lie post-coital in bed and start laying the scene. Alex (Danny Mahoney) and Josh (Sean Hart) are a married couple who have opened up their marriage to threesomes, in this case with the younger Darius (Jesse Fox). It’s a fun and carefree fling, and then things get… complicated.

To be honest you can probably already guess the plot twists (they’re more like gentle leans-to-the-side than actual twists). Some scenes stumble with unwieldy dialogue or a lack of subtext, but there is an odd assuredness to this production that gets you through it.

Production Photos by Darren Bell

The nudity is “a thing”. It’s bold & frankly shameless in the best way. I don’t know about you but I’ve sat through endless awful fringe plays that use nudity as their only selling-point. That’s not the case here as director Tom O’Brien uses the actors very trim bodies like a popstar uses flashing lights. It’s a “shock-and-awe” offensive that disguises the awkward exposition like a spoonful of sugar. Naked showers, scene-changes that are more to do with removing clothes than removing props – it seems like a waste of time having the cast ever get dressed. The actors manage to stand naked before you in a way that is neither apologetic nor posturing.

It’s once the clothes go back on that the plot picks up and the cracks start to show a bit. Titillation and charm can’t quite cover the thin characterisation, emotional highs that aren’t earned and the lack of nuance in the play’s observations. The whole thing has an air of melodrama that is neatly summed up by the show’s tag-line “the climax is only the beginning”, a bit tacky but you know what kind of show you’re getting.

Production Photos by Darren Bell

So much of Afterglow felt as though it were written in the late 90s/early 00s, from the choice of dance music during the scene-changes to the casting (three men who all fit the same monochromatic mold; all young, all white, all slim). It’s a surprisingly conventional play with conventional morals that leaves a lot of the complex and problematic issues of open relationships unexplored. In fact with a switch in the casting this would be the classic plot of a married couple’s lives getting turned upside down by an affair.

While my brain can’t help but point out Afterglow’s flaws, this production manages to make the whole endeavour entertaining. At a brisk 85 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome, the cast are charming and convincing. The show is fantastically sexy, but knows when to put it away.

Afterglow isn’t going to change your world or open your mind to the complexities of human relationships, but it will entertain you quite happily.

The details: AFTERGLOW is currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse (London) till 20th July. For more information and to purchase tickets head here.

By Chad Armstrong

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