Afterplay – Bewley’s Cafe Theatre – Review
by Frank L.
Afterplay by Brian Friel
November 21 – December 23, 2022
Brian Friel loved the work of Anton Chekhov and his intimate knowledge “Uncle Vanya” and “The Three Sisters” was instrumental in the creation of this one-act, two-hander play. Andrey (Barry Barnes) is the brother of the three sisters and Sonya (Karen Ardiff) is the niece of Uncle Vanya. Time has marched on and these two individuals meet by chance some twenty years later in a second-rate tea house in Moscow. The intervening years have not been generous to either of them. Sonya is battling with the problems of an impoverished estate that her uncle has left her and Andrey is making his living as an orchestral violinist in the opera which is rehearsing a production of La Boheme. However, as their conversation develops their initial description of themselves comes to be revised substantially in the case of Andrey and more subtly by Sonya. Each in different ways was selective about what they chose to reveal and hide about their past. But their past impinges on their present circumstances and the loneliness which surrounds both of them.
Jack Scullion has created a set which affords a sense of intimacy even though it is a public restaurant. The atmosphere permits the revelatory conversation to develop. It is a cramped space and it is easy to imagine its overall ambience by the several references to the ungracious manageress who is referred to by both Sonya and Andrey but who never makes an appearance.
The play premiered in the Gate Theatre in 2002, with the impressive cast of John Hurt and Penelope Wilton. It is surprising this play is not more widely known or performed as it is a thoughtful and beautifully described short play for two characters.
As the play begins Sonya sits alone at her table before Andrey arrives. They had a conversation in the restaurant the night before but Sonya preoccupied with various papers to do with her impoverished estate is slow on the uptake. Initially, Andrey makes the running. They gradually tell more about their past to each other and indeed about their present state but all is not fact. They are revealing their own personal strategies as to how to deal with the reality of their lives as it is. They bring each other on a journey which appears to be revelatory and personal but they are and continue to be strangers. These are the personal strategies each has developed over the years to survive as a single person.
The two actors, Karen Ardiff and Barry Barnes complement each other in their splendid dialogue. Each manages to portray their respective lives with a sense of proprietorial pride until the reality of the private predicament of each comes to the forefront of their thoughts.
Bewleys Cafe Theatre has created an ideal location to encounter this by chance meeting. You are, as a member of the audience, a privileged fly on the wall. Sit back and enjoy this opportunity to hear clearly what is being said at the next table by two strangers. It is a delight.
Directed by David Horan
Starring Karen Ardiff as Sonya and Barry Barnes as Andrey