Despite its cheesy title, Brian Friel’s Afterplay is a sensitively written character study that imagines a meeting of two characters from Chekhov’s canon. In a ghostly quiet Moscow cafe, destitute violinist Andrey – brother to the Three Sisters – and lovelorn but tenacious Sonya – niece to Uncle Vanya – share vodka, lukewarm soup and a tentative friendship.
Their dialogue is a delicate flirtation, deliberately slow-paced and meandering but nevertheless absolutely absorbing. Friel’s script forensically, yet playfully, dissects Chekhov’s characters, finding a depth of warmth, complication and recognisable frailty simmering away like the water in a samovar. Director John Haidar has taken pains to illuminate each subtle detail, ensuring every casual gesture and unconscious hesitation conveys some deeper meaning.
Rory Keenan plays Andrey with great charm, a fumbling but well-meaning failure creating a web of lies as a way of imagining a better life for his estranged family. Meanwhile, Mariah Gale gives Sonya a convincingly brittle edge, a volatile mix of insecurity and isolation bringing a sense of desperation to even her lighter moods.
Lucy Osborne’s gorgeously realised set features sharply slanted, perspective-bending walls of glass and wood panelling, complete with a mirrored floor and ceiling that draws the eye forcefully to a spindly, lifeless tree beyond a vast window, where snow falls ceaselessly. A palette of warm greys and faded wooden furniture picks up every shift in Malcolm Rippeth’s evocative lighting design, which drifts between honey-coloured heat and chilly blue in sync with the protagonists’ rising and falling hopes.