Beirut at Park Theatre
Beirut at Park Theatre
Beirut by Alan Bowne is set during an unknown time in the future in America where a virus has spread. Residents are tested and those infected are quarantined in an area of New York whilst those that tested negative live in a different part, the two never allowed to mix for fear of contamination. The virus spread by bodily fluid, means that having babies is banned and there is speak of babies being born in test tubes.
At the fore of the play however is the sexual repression. Those that test negative are banned from having sex, the women forced to cover up so as to not tease the men. Living in this world is Blue, who tested negative and her boyfriend Torch who tested positive. Blue has snuck into the quarantined zone and spends most of the play trying to convince Torch to have sex with her and potentially sign her death warrant.
Whilst the virus is never named throughout Beirut the show is clearly based on the aids epidemic. However the bigger concept itself was one that intrigued me with the discussion over the state control over our private lives, in particular our sex life and how we try to wrestle back control. Throughout the play Blue flits between declaring her love for Torch and utter frustration at his refusing to kiss her and generally engage in any intimacy, whereas Torch displays a build up of clear sexual frustration and frustration that the woman he loves seems so determined to manipulate him into sleeping with her and thus condemning her.
Blue and Torch had a very interesting relationship and power dynamic however I would have liked to have known more about them and their back story. Without this you felt that sex was very much at the fore and that the driving force behind this was lust, rather than love. The majority of the time Beirut was a fairly circular occurance of Blue trying to persuade Torch, Torch nearly caving in, changing his mind and Blue getting angry as a result.
The show did sit slightly uneasily with me and it took me a while to realise why. If the roles were reversed in this play, if it was in fact Blue who already tested positive and consequently it was Torch trying to manipulate Blue into having sex with him the play would have barely begun before there were grumbles about the undercurrent of the show. However as it was a woman trying to convince a man to sleep with her this aspect was glossed over, possibly to the shows detriment.
Blue was played by Louise Connolly-Burnham and she played this difficult character with confidence. Blue is not a character you really empathise with yet Connolly-Burnham still managed to get the audience eating out of the palm of her hand as she toyed with Torch. Torch was played by Robert Rees who was full of contradictions and consistently put in impossible situations yet he maintained believability throughout. The biggest success however for both Connolly-Burnham and Rees was their chemistry and their ease with each other on stage. Beirut required many intimate moments for the actors and in a small venue there was no getting away from it but they certainly convinced me that they wanted each other.
The play itself was staged well. The set was what looked like a bed sit with a dirty bed and papers littering the stage. A simple set of stairs leads up to the door of Torch’s home showing that what the audience sees is literally Torch’s life. The lighting is effective, setting the dark mood of the piece, further enhancing the squalor of Torch’s life.
Overall Beirut is an interesting piece and whilst I liked the concept I thought this could have been developed further however the cast and creatives have done a good job with this flawed play.
To find out more about Beirut visit Park Theatre’s website.