Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Review: 'Afterplay'

'Afterplay' is a one-act theatrical conceit by Brian Friel based on the supposed after-life of two characters from different Chekov plays. Sonya, played by Frances Barber with a rich Chekovian sense that life has passed her by, comes out of the tangled relationships that make up the text of Uncle Vanya.

Andrey, played by Niall Buggy in a way that makes you wonder how often he jumps at his own shadow, is the brother of the three sisters in the play of the same name.

They have met by accident and are now meeting again, the following night, to explore the mutual attraction between them.

In one act of an hour's length, this process goes on, and on. Though the elegance -- Friel's greatest asset as a writer -- is evident throughout and is well served by the cast of two, the drama is very limited.

They tell minor untruths to each other which then have to be corrected.

True to the two originals, Sonya is bewildered by the confusions of property, while Prozorov has ended -- as one might expect in trying to work out how characters get on after plays end -- on the verge of poverty, playing on the streets of Moscow as a musician.

Though well-directed by Garry Hynes, it does not really work as theatre.

Because concealment has crept into both characters they find it difficult to reach the point where attraction requires a change of course.

Instead, late on, as the reality of it all sinks in, Sonya hardens her heart and departs, leaving Andrey to shrug this off as best he can -- just as he shrugged off the devastation he brought down on the heads of his three sisters years before in the Chekov masterpiece.

The play was first produced in 2002 together with a one-act masterpiece by Chekov called 'The Bear'. Now, this is a play of roughly one hour in duration, in which the world is turned inside out for all three of its wonderfully- realised characters.

'Afterplay', when I saw it then, was a bit sad beside 'The Bear'. Even beautifully done, the hill between them remains steep.