An AIDS-like disease has plagued the nation in a near-reality future. Alan Bowne's consequential commentary Beirut looks at the fallout of such quarantine:

In the squalor of a backstreet hovel, existing on the breadline, is Torch (Robert Rees). Except he’s not there by choice – he’s in quarantine. Liz Ascroft’s set is stifling and grimy, an industrial backdrop decorated with graffiti and slick with Torch’s sweat. It’s rags over riches in Robin Lefevre’s interpretation of Alan Bowne’s 1980s near-realist dystopia. Beirut, the name given to the quarantine for a mysterious disease that strangely resembles AIDS – passed through fluids and presenting as sores and pains, with a fatal prognosis. The framing is conceptually pessimistic, an existence rather than a life. Lefevre’s bleak atmosphere effectively pervades through the text.

Beirut Park Theatre

Rob Rees & Louisa Connolly-Burnham (image courtesy of Loranc Sparsi)

Enter Blue (Louisa Connolly-Burnham), a non-sufferer who is grimly determined to live with her boyfriend regardless of her own personal safety. Better to feel alive than to simply live. Her entrance is a whirlwind, breaking into the segregated hovels at great personal risk. It all happens without pause, unrelenting as the audience attempt to get to grips with the atmosphere and the relationship between such passionate and enflamed lovers, forbidden from touching each other for fear of passing on the disease. In rushing forward with the narrative, Lefevre’s vision takes took long to gain its footing – the initial sparring matches lack depth or bite on both sides. Both Connolly-Burnham and Rees’ physicality are better than their verbal attacks, the two facets disconnected in their approach.

Beirut Park Theatre

Rob Rees & Louisa Connolly-Burnham (image courtesy of Loranc Sparsi)

But as these two debate the inevitability of society crumbling in on itself, yet blaming it on the disease rather than any subsequent decisions, Beirut starts to truly heat up. Bowne’s work is a play of foreplay, a to-and-fro for all kinds of tension without the climactic release. Blue continually persists for physical intimacy, Torch for emotional connection. In this constant balancing act, the duality of anger and love lies ill at ease next to each other – both actors are more adept in their conveyance of violence rather than passion. The addition of the Guard (Simon Mendes da Costa) helps – a brief interlude that galvanises the true danger of the situation, controlled as it is by a military state.

Beirut Park Theatre

Louisa Connolly-Burnham (image courtesy of Loranc Sparsi)

Beirut is a fiery show with Lefevre’s direction, capitalising on the intrinsic heat generated by both the environmental and emotional conditions. It burns bright, but never quite blazes an inferno. With a lack of variety in the pacing, such a production makes for an intriguing watch but not an unmissable one.

 

 

★★★☆☆

Beirut runs at the Park Theatre until 7 July 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.