John Bell gives a terrific performance in this one man play about a young American growing up in New York and reaching manhood in the time of Aids managing to hold the stage with consummate ease. He is backed by a simple set using a chest from which he takes occasional props and an elaborate lighting set up of candles and lights masquerading as stars. Designer David Shields has worked wonders. The sound designer Aaron Dootser also must take credit for conjuring up the young man’s world so brilliantly that you feel you are in the heart of that city and not a studio in Wimbledon..
The hero is billed only as the Performer . John Drake’s play is, however, to some extent autobiographical but making the teller a man with no name lends the whole thing a more universal power. This is not just one man’s story but many men’s story. One man soliloquies can become tedious but director Steven Dexter has worked out just how to keep the Performer on the move throughout and Bell does grow up before our eyes, starting off as a six year shocked by the violence of the Stonewall riots, discovering he is a lover of musicals, getting his first kiss, finding out about what goes on in the bath house and the changing room at the gym, coming out and then confronting the Aids pandemic. It is an intensely physical performance and he stretches all his actor muscles delivering it.
Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart is central to the Performer’s story – he became an actor after seeing it – hence the title. February is LGBT history month and this fine production is a contribution to that which deserves to be supported. The play ran off Broadway for over a year when it was first staged, but New York fringe is totally different from what we have in London – so seize the opportunity to see this heartwarming piece.
The Performer: John Bell.
Director: Steven Dexter.
Set Designer: David Shields.
Lighting Designer: Aaron Dootser.
Production Photographs: Mark Senior.