Above – Ainsley Melham and Mitchell Butel. Cover – Mitchell Butel and Ainsley Melham. Photos – Matt Byrne

This is an important play. It is a challenging, confronting, stimulating, inspiring, moving, provocative and extraordinary play. This production is all of those as well, and more, as it portrays the rise of the AIDS crisis in New York city in the 1980’s, as other centres were much more active and responsive to the plague.

Furthermore, it is a credit to the magnificent cast and crew that Director Dean Bryant has recruited. They all, together with the play itself, deserve all the accolades and applause they earned from the immediate standing ovation of an enthusiastic and fully appreciative audience.

The acting by every cast member is superb. From each of them there are magnificent portrayals of fear, anger, outrage, frustration, guilt, courage, grief, and especially of love. Each character has their own story of personal or family tragedy, loss, infuriation or fear, and each actor is supremely adept in portraying the gamut of the emotions and sometimes tense conflicts that are evoked. The frustration at the inactivity and unresponsiveness of officialdom and government in the face of increasing evidence of the need for action is palpable, particularly in some fiery moments by Mitchell Butel as Ned, and from Emma Jones as Dr Emma Brookner

The set by Jeremy Allen is expansive and architectural, proving perfectly adaptable as an apartment, an office, a medical consulting room, and a city hall meeting room, as the many scene changes are smoothly and efficiently performed by the cast, with lighting by Nigel Levings so appropriate that it is almost unnoticeable.

This is all underscored by subtle music, especially written by Hilary Kleinig, and performed on stage by Michael Griffiths and Clara Gillam-Grant.

While this play is a story of love, struggle against ignorance and prejudice and oppression, and was written 40 years ago, it is not only a powerful history piece, but is also a vital social commentary on oppression of minority groups, idealism, and the fear of difference that can immobilise officialdom and provoke it to demonising rather than understanding and taking action. AIDS was not the first, nor is it the last frightening epidemic tearing through communities, so this play still has vital currency today as COVID continues to ravage populations while our governments turn away from the fact that people are dying, and they remove safeguards in favour of business convenience, economics and the almighty dollar, disguised as a matter of individual responsibility rather than government intervention.

This alone is a reason to see this amazing play now in Australia, as it was in New York when it was first performed.

Event details

State Theatre Company South Australia presents
The Normal Heart
by Larry Kramer

Director Dean Bryant

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide SA
Dates: 30 September – 15 October 2022
Bookings: www.statetheatrecompany.com.au

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