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Afterplay review – Brian Friel's Chekhovian parlour game | Stage

Afterplay initially sounds like drama of the most audacious kind: a mashup of two of Anton Chekhov’s most majestic plays, bringing together the lovelorn Sonya from Uncle Vanya and the violin-playing brother, Andrey, from Three Sisters in a single, hour-long act. They are strangers who meet in a Moscow cafe. As Andrey (Rory Keenan) sips cabbage soup and Sonya (Mariah Gale) opens a bottle of vodka, we learn what happened beyond Chekhov’s ending for them both.

But Brian Friel’s 2002 drama never quite lifts off with enough imagination and the actors do not have the chemistry to bring it alive. We circle around backstories that summarise the plots of both plays, followed by a few predicable forward strands; Sonya’s uncle Vanya died almost two decades ago, we are told, and she is still stuck in the same groove of unrequited yearning for Dr Astrov. Andrey, meanwhile, was abandoned by Natasha, the wife who cuckolded him, while his sister Masha killed herself and his son is in jail. The trajectories seem gloomy enough for Chekhov, but perhaps unsurprising, too.

Rory Keenan and Mariah Gale in Afterplay

Mildest of flirtation … Rory Keenan and Mariah Gale in Afterplay. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

There is poetry in Lucy Osborne’s set design (swirling snow, low lamplight, long shadows and lots of glass) and there is some sport in recognising Chekhovian signature marks, from Sonya’s love of trees, which aficionados will know has been inherited from Astrov before she tells us, to abject descriptions of loneliness, or, as Sonya puts it, the “tundra of aloneness that stretches before me”.

But John Haidar’s production never becomes more than this parlour game. As characters speak or stare into the middle distance, the drama resembles a Dead Ringers pastiche of Chekhov rather than a serious-minded spin-off. A tonal switch in the last part takes us from the mildest of flirtation between characters to unconvincing passion.

Friel’s play was once described as a “short story in 3D”, says Haidar, but its psychological drama is simply too flat and flimsy to call Chekhovian.

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