Afterlife investigates the life of the Austrian impresario and founder of the Salzburg Festival, Max Reinhardt (Allam). Each year at Salzburg, Reinhardt directed the morality play Everyman, about God sending Death to summon a representative of mankind for judgement. Then in 1938 Hitler sends Death into Austria where Reinhardt, a Jew, is left as vulnerable as Everyman himself and must now face judgement himself.
After premiering at the National in 2003, Frayn’s last, multi award-winning full-length play Democracy, directed by Blakemore and starring Allam, transferred to the West End and was subsequently mounted on Broadway. Frayn’s other plays include Copenhagen, Noises Off, Donkeys’ Years, Alarms and Excursions, Benefactors and The Crimson Hotel.
Afterlife is directed by Frayn’s long-term collaborator Michael Blakemore and designed by Peter Davison. The cast also features David Burke, Abigail Cruttenden, Peter Forbes, Glyn Grain, Selina Griffiths and David Schofield.
Overnight critics were in the main underwhelmed by Afterlife, which they variously described as “crushingly disappointing”, “repetitive”, “spirit-sapping” and “pretentious”. Several conceded that they could see what Frayn was attempting, but nevertheless decided that “in practice, it does not quite work”. Despite some “exquisite moments” in Blakemore’s “superbly marshalled” production, even the “usually fine” Roger Allam was unable to rise above the flawed material for critics. The fact that the play, written largely in rhyming couplets, comes so soon after Tony Harrison’s critically panned verse drama Fram also prompted unhappy recollections and comparisons. However, Afterlife did find a big fan in The Times’ Sam Marlowe who, while acknowledging that the “writing is unashamedly contrived”, felt that the overall “experience still dazzles”.
- by Terri Paddock