Normal Heart Magazine – Poignant and Powerful Account of the AIDS Epidemic | National theater
VSComparisons have been drawn between the trauma of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the Covid-19 pandemic. Larry Kramer’s autobiographical piece, written around the time of what many called the “gay plague” in New York City, shows how crude and incomparable these parallels are. “We are living an epidemic while the rest of the world continues around us,” says its central figure. “We are living in war while they are living in peacetime.” Nonetheless, it’s a resonant moment to revive Kramer’s poignant and inflammatory drama about infectious disease politics and prejudice, as well as gay love and activism.
This production – the first in London since its European premiere at Royal Court in 1986 – becomes a painful recording of all the ways a prejudiced establishment has turned a blind eye to the epidemic. Its story spans four years in the early 1980s and takes us inside a gay health advocacy group led by the terrier Ned Weeks (based on Kramer himself), whose members have campaign as a generation of young gay men have died around them. It shows how a few inches of a column have been written about the spread of the disease and how doctors have not received funding to find a cure.
Unlike Russell T Davies’ It’s a Sin TV series, which presents a very moving story through a group of friends, this is a combative drama of ideas. Weeks (Ben Daniels – passionate, pugnacious) is the co-founder of the advocacy group, whose inflammatory ideas and leadership style led him to be ousted, while group leader Bruce Niles (finely played by Luke Norris), is his face – a banker in the closet laughing at his boss’s homophobic jokes but hoping to bring change from within.
Directed by Dominic Cooke, it has harsher edges and greater authenticity than the 2014 film adaptation, which starred Julia Roberts as infectious disease specialist Dr Brookner and Mark Ruffalo as Ned. The play captures the anger and internal schisms in the community with dazzling clarity. “This epidemic is also killing friendships,” says Ned. Some in the cast project that anger a bit too brutally, including Liz Carr as Dr. Brookner and Daniels as well, who starts off at the highest volume and continues in that register too long, though it does bring vulnerability in. the second half.
The interaction between this group of activists – by turns irritable, explosive and flirtatious – is sometimes flattened by this garish volatility. But Daniel Monks, as advocate of free love Mickey, and Danny Lee Wynter as self-proclaimed “Southern slut” Tommy, are more controlled, the former bringing moving angst, the latter wickedness and prickly humor. Robert Bowman as Ned’s older brother Ben gives a strong performance despite an at times wobbly American accent, and the brothers’ exchanges about life choices are a complex mix of love, shame, anger and homophobia. quiet from Ben.
The Normal Heart has its static or dogmatic moments with angry speeches exposing political or ideological positions, but there are also rich and complex discussions, most notably the debate over love and sex. Ned opposes “promiscuity” and asserts that monogamy is not a civil rights issue but a medical issue. Mickey, meanwhile, presents the other side in one of the play’s most passionate moments: “We have been oppressed,” he says, and views the community’s full and free sex life as a harsh right. won.
The production looks like a period piece on the stripped-back circular stage of Vicki Mortimer, whose hearth shines everywhere. Most often there are reported incidents of death and illness that bring human drama and emotional blows: the characters speak of mothers finding out that their sons are gay on their deathbed. Bruce describes his boyfriend’s final hours and the world’s astounding hostility to his illness. These rude reports run across the room, wrapping around political arguments.
Ned and Felix’s love story is also beautifully rendered, romantic, and heartbreaking in its end. Dino Fetscher plays the New York Times American journalist and boyfriend exquisitely, and there is a natural chemistry between the actors. We end with the symbolism and meaning of a hospital bed, a single loss that captures the whole crisis and resonates with our time. What also echoes is men’s overwhelming sense of facing the unknown. “Can I give it to Ned?” “Asks Felix, then, in a devastating tone:” Can we kiss?