Park Theatre – until 7 July
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
In Alan Bowne’s 1986 play, the US government’s response to the fatal spread of an unnamed disease is brutal. Those who have tested positive are tattooed and placed in a quarantine zone, known as Beirut. With squalid living conditions, dehumanising lesion inspections and the constant threat of a painful death, Beirut is a living hell. Life for negatives isn’t a bundle of laughs either – sex and pregnancy are capital crimes, cameras monitor every move, and any negatives having contact with positives are strung from lampposts as deterrents. In 1986 this must have seemed like an improbable dystopian nightmare, but in Trump’s America this doesn’t feel too much of a leap.
Bowne’s AIDS allegory is packed with passion and anger, with Blue (Louise Connolly-Burnham) breaking into the quarantine zone to be with her boyfriend Torch (Robert Rees). The two actors spend most of the play in their underwear, playing a cat and mouse game of seduction as Blue tries to convince Torch that this is where she wants to be, with him. The characters are brash and bitter, with Torch unwilling to live with the guilt of perhaps infecting Blue, and Blue raging against her life without love or passion. Both actors give committed and convincing performances, but the amount of dry humping involved becomes a little tedious.
The issues surrounding loss of freedom and dignity, and the sacrifices made, are still relevant and are brought to the forefront each time an outbreak of serious disease hits the headlines, along with ongoing prejudice against HIV+ people. But Beirut is definitely a play of its time, a wild howl against an unknown and terrifying disease that feels overly melodramatic after decades of breakthroughs in AIDS treatment.