At the National Theatre, Michael Frayn has reunited the team behind Democracy – long-time Frayn director Michael Blakemore and leading actor Roger Allam – for a new historical play, Afterlife.
Rather than the world of politics, this new piece deals with theatre, in particular the life of impresario Max Reinhardt, founder of the Salzburg Festival, at which he would annually stage a production of morality play Everyman.
The premise of Frayn’s play is that the tale of Everyman overlaps Reinhardt’s life; the key difference being that while Everyman struggles to find companions to accompany him on his journey, Reinhardt is supported by a mistress, a secretary and a long-serving accountant, though how much he truly cares for them could be questioned.
Frayn intersperses dialogue and scenes from Everyman with Reinhardt’s story, adding his own verse to that of the ancient play, overlapping to the point where the distinction between reality and theatre is blurred. This blurring, as Reinhardt states, is what the producer aimed for in life. To that end, Frayn may have captured a touch of Reinhardt’s fantastical and obsessive mind on stage.
As Reinhardt, Allam is part salesman, part enthusiastic dreamer, lost in his own world and unable to distinguish reality from fancies. In size, he is dwarfed by Peter Davison’s towering, monumental set, though his unrelenting charisma is an equal to the dominating pillars of Salzburg.
Selina Griffiths delivers a secretary who dotes on her employer, arranging his entire life without a hint of unrequited love. Peter Forbes plays put upon accountant Katie, frustrated to breaking point, while David Schofield’s Herr Muller is a man who cannot hide his resentment and hatefulness, lusting for the bloody revolution that would come at the hands of the Nazis.