Beirut at Park Theatre
When Alan Bowne’s play Beirut was first performed in 1988, it was a reaction to the newly-coined AIDS epidemic sweeping America. 30 years later, award-winning theatre director Robin Lefevre brings the drama to London’s Park Theatre to illustrate that its themes are still terrifyingly relevant in 2018. In what used to be Manhattan, Torch (Robert Rees) is quarantined in a segregated zone not-so-affectionately referred to by its inhabitants as “Beirut”. His disease is not named but it’s highly infectious, lethal and untreatable, and he spends his days awaiting the tell-tale lesions that will signal the onset of his demise. However, the arrival of uninfected girlfriend Blue (Louisa Connolly-Burnham), raises a new question: is it better for the couple to “live without sex and feel dead, or risk death and feel alive?”.
Not only is the play visually striking throughout – utilising pale lighting and dry ice to augment the slum-like atmosphere of Torch’s dingy basement set against the glaring red outline of the stage – but the performances from Rees and Connolly-Burnham are both thrilling and intense. The latter gives an especially strong portrayal of her character, performing the quickfire changes of Blue’s emotional states seamlessly whilst retaining the elements of Bronx patois that define her decisive nature. Sexual tension quickly turns to anger, which in turn verges on comedy, effectively bringing their guard down for long enough to reconcile their frustration, if only temporarily, allowing for Blue to resume her advances. Above all else, it is the way that these actors are able to deliver on such a fast-paced and turbulent array of emotions and scenarios that makes for such an engaging and powerful performance.
Although Lefevre’s revival of the play is set against a dystopian backdrop where the fear of a major outbreak has led to authoritarian control, the performance retains a sense of realism in the dialogue and interaction between the central couple. It is a love story of two people caught in the midst of a disease epidemic; one has the disease and one doesn’t, and it is this romantic theme that allows the production to transcend time, location and fantasy, ultimately making their issues our own in a time when diseases such as the Ebola and Zika viruses continue to become more resistant to antibiotics. It is an age-old story with a topical twist: two lovers kept apart by fate, only this time “fate” is a deadly retrovirus.
Photo: Loranc Sparsi
Beirut is at Park Theatre from 12th June until 7th July 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Beirut here: