Park Theatre, London – until 7 July 2018
Beirut, Alan Bowne’s short dystopian AIDS drama, first seen Off-Broadway in 1987 and now revived at London’s Park Theatre, is the quarantine zone in New York City where stricken victims of an unnamed disease are corralled and monitored by a futuristic and authoritarian state. The infection, we learn, is spread through contact and body fluids – physical intimacy is a sure-fire death sentence.
Holed up in an urban subterranean refuge is Torch (Robert Rees), whose exercise routine involving naked chin-ups and pillow grinding is interrupted by the arrival of his perspective beau Blue (Louisa Connolly-Burnham). Blue, much to the dismay of Torch, is hell-bent on the consummation of their relationship and duly strips to her underwear. The pair spends the subsequent hour grappling in a will-they or won’t-they Freudian sex and death conundrum.
The play was written at the hysterical height of the 80s AIDS epidemic, with paranoia and despair heavy in the atmosphere, searching torchlights shining into the basement and a quasi-Nazi branding of the infected. Some elements of the story seem almost tongue-in-cheek: references to the dreaded ‘sex detectors’ and a Guard character (Simon Mendes de Costa) with a special interest in proctology, deflect from the human story.
The piece feels like its lost some of its sense of urgency, and pales in comparison to Kushner’s Angels in America. Nevertheless, Beirut benefits from a slick production from Robin Lefevre, the sumptuous design from Liz Ashcroft, and two knockout performances from Rees and Connolly-Burnham.