Writer: Brian Friel
Director: John Haidar
Cast your mind back. Remember what it is like wandering through a gallery at dusk and happening upon an unnoticed room to discover a magnificent painting. This is the experience of Lucy Osborne’s design. Her set is a skilful canvas of changing perspectives. The scene is an Art Nouveau café. Snow-covered windows, and mirrored ceilings and floors, no longer gleaming but clouded with time, impose the space. In the centre is a table where Sonya (Mariah Gale) sits, her reflection visible in the floor-to-ceiling window that fills the back wall. Outside there is a single white poplar tree. Its branches bare. Sonya’s style of dress, a worn briefcase and ornate glass hint to early 19th century, although there is a timeless quality to this ante-room. The woman is pensive, writing; periodically gazing out at the audience.
With this vivid opening image, it is as though nothing has changed. Brian Friel opens Afterplay as Chekhov ends his Uncle Vanya. But it is 20 years later and when Sonya is joined by Andrey (Rory Keenan) from Three Sisters, the play suggests a different story. In the hands of Friel, Chekhov’s characters are still searching for that ever elusive sense of comfort, but there is some hope. Meeting for the first time, by chance in Moscow, the two characters reminisce about their past, the fates of their loved ones, and what could have been.
There is a captivating stillness in Mariah Gale’s Sonya. She is at first glance distracted and resolute, but carefully chooses when to reveal Chekhov’s naïve young girl. At one point, Gale tentatively touches her hands to her face, in longing for her lover, Astrov. It is heart-breaking. Handsome with thick silver hair and beard, Keenan lends Andrey dignity, charm and wit. But there is disappointment bubbling underneath. His falsetto no-no-no-no! when Sonya insists on sharing her vodka is the start of his unravelling.
Director John Haidar is generous in his staging. His light touch allows the production to quietly speak to the seemingly ordinary, giving voice to universal feelings of sadness and loneliness but also courage and hope. In a meeting that lasts not even an hour we learn as much about them as we do about ourselves.
Runs until 04 April 2020