The Normal Heart ★★★★★ National Theatre | Sep 23 - Nov 6, 2021


The Normal Heart is devastating. Written by Larry Kramer in 1985, it retains its powerful message about the reluctance of government to accept the enormity of epidemics. We are embroiled in the struggle for recognition of AIDS charities, and Kramer's autobiographical play aims a vitriolic attack, specifically at the way the New York mayor's office ignored pleas for help – particularly from the gay community. Running in parallel are personal stories of young men stricken with the illness. The main focus is on Ned and his partner, Felix, superbly played by Dino Fetscher, as the latter slowly succumbs to a horrible death. This play isn't an easy ride but it is astonishingly well performed and directed. As Ned, the activist passionately committed to his cause, Ben Daniels' performance is simply stunning. From the outset, both vocally and physically, his is an incredibly visceral feat of acting, and he heads an extremely strong cast. Liz Carr and Daniel Monks put in astonishing turns as Dr Emma Brookner and Mickey Marcus, and the entire ensemble is quite faultless. Performed in the round, Dominic Cooke's direction pulls no punches and is a terrifying indictment of an institutionalised homophobia which may come as a shock to younger audiences. Have we moved on? It is too easy to make comparisons with the current pandemic, but the timing of this revival is certainly apposite. This play is incredibly raw, and at the end, we were unable to speak for several minutes. The whole experience left us quietly pondering W. H. Auden's heartfelt dictum, "We must love one another or die."

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo by Helen Maybanks.

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