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‘Beirut’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

A dystopian tale of sexuality under surveillance, written at the height of the AIDS crisis

Alan Browne’s one-hour play is set in a future America, whose population has been ravaged by an unnamed sexually-transmitted disease. Those with the infection have a ‘P’ for positive tattooed on their buttocks. Survivors have to wear burlap smocks so as not to offer temptation to others. State-operated cameras in homes monitor citizens to make sure they’re not at it. New York’s Lower East Side is now a quarantined zone known as ‘Beirut’, where Brooklynite kid Torch (Robert Rees), who’s tested positive, lives under surveillance. When his girlfriend Blue (Louisa Connoly-Burnham), who’s negative, breaks into his squat-like apartment, it’s clear that despite the law, and despite her own safety, she has one thing on her mind.

The Aids allegory is patently clear; this was first performed in 1992, at the height of international hysteria (Browne himself lost his life to Aids-related complications). Though what’s noticeable is that, unlike many plays of the time, this doesn’t focus on the LGBT+ community – Torch and Blue are a straight couple – and is more a comment on the leaking of guilt and paranoia into erstwhile normal, romantic desires.

A grubby, guilt-ridden sexuality (get set for a lot of furtive dry-humping) runs throughout Robin Lefevre’s revival; even all the Noo Yoik patter has an icky, bodily quality to it: (‘Suck it, nipplehead!’ ‘Man, life is a haemorrhoid.’) Lovers become dangerous sacks of contagions; love itself becomes a reckless exchange of saliva and excretables. Liz Ascroft’s red-tinged, graffiti-covered, squat-like set matches the feverish frustration of this conflicted, horny kids.

Ultimately the shortcomings here lie largely in the source material: too much of Browne’s text is given over to exposition, while the rollercoaster chemistry between Torch and Blue is a little over-written at points. But Rees and Connolly-Burnham both apply themselves admirably to an hour that asks much of them physically. Whether ‘Beirut’ still has the capacity to resonate is open to debate, but as a miniaturist artefact of its time, it deserves respect and attention.

Written by
Matt Breen


£14.50-£18, £16.50 concs
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