The Theatreguide.London Review
Olivier Theatre Autumn 2021
Larry Kramer's powerful play 'The Normal Heart,' first performed in 1985, helped publicise the horrors of the AIDs crisis and the callous passivity of the institutional response.
It follows the four-year struggle in the early 1980s of the fictional activist Ned Weeks (loosely based on Larry Kramer) from his meeting with Dr Emma Brookner, to his clashes not only with those with the money and the means to respond, but also with other gay men who, having so recently won legality and a precarious acceptance of their sexuality, did not always find his insistence on sexual caution/abstinence useful.
Neither did they always warm to his rabble-rousing speeches, preferring instead a long road of patient politeness.
Ben Daniels gives an exciting passionate performance as Ned Weeks, adding poetic energy to his pauses and phrases. Liz Carr is engagingly intense as the strong-minded Dr Brockner who, at one point frustrated by the refusal of AIDs funding by a bureaucrat, angrily throws at him the folders she had been carrying that list those dead and dying from AIDs.
It's not just those holding the funding that enrage our characters. It is also the politicians who refuse to meet them and the media which gave so little coverage to the issue. We hear that by 1983 seven Tylenol-related deaths generate four times the funding than the many hundreds dead from AIDs.
This witty emotionally moving show is given a fluent production in the round with a minimalist greyish white set and a fine cast of fourteen that makes the two hours forty-five minutes running time fly past.
The play stands as an important testimony to the continuing fight of Larry Kramer and other activists. In 2020, not long before his death, Larry Kramer raised with Presidential candidate Joe Biden at a Town Hall meeting the need to deal with the persistent inadequacy in the response to AIDs.
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