For Trinity students involved in staging Larry Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, AIDS was, says Alex Velody, ‘something before our lifetimes, done and dusted, to move on from perhaps.’
The Normal Heart, which runs at the ADC Theatre, 30 January – 3 February, also involves Trinity students Eddie Adams and Jaysol Doy (acting), Alice Weatherley and Anna Peterson (costume design), Dylan Stewart (welfare) and Lea Cornelis (publicist).
The play explores the impact of AIDS on the New York gay community 1981-1984, before the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) had been identified and when fear and stigma were rife. Before the April 1985 premiere of The Normal Heart, the United States reported 10,000 cases of AIDS with 4,942 deaths.
Second-year Philosophy student Alex Velody who directs the production said it was not until Russell T Davies’ recent television drama It’s A Sin that he understood the ‘rawness of AIDS’ and people’s experiences 40 years ago.
AIDS. To a young generation, it means…well not much. Something before our lifetimes, done and dusted, to move on from perhaps. To generations who have come before us, it was a “gay disease”, something so awful in its terror that hushed voices must be used. Either way, much of our team’s experience of AIDS has been, in our circles and from our parents, characterised by silence. Put simply, AIDS is not sufficiently platformed in contemporary conversation.
Getting involved in staging Kramer’s play was one way of galvanizing debate around the issue of HIV & AIDS.
Kramer captures the very real and complex dialogues surrounding AIDS; in society, in the queer community, and in one’s home. The Normal Heart wasn’t written to be a classic, but as a howling plea for the time, inspiring viewers to listen, to look, and to act, all timeless charges.
The play also ‘pointed towards the enduring power of compassion, solidarity, community, hope and activism to overcome,’ said Alex, which could be applied to other crises, the COVID pandemic being a good example.
For first-year Law student Jaysol Doy, who plays Felix, the play ‘holds a very special place in my heart.’
‘I first read The Normal Heart when I was 16, after having just come out to family and friends. The world has not been, and to some degree still isn’t, a kind place for LGBT+ people to exist and I felt that: I felt worried, anxious, scared for what my sexuality was,’ he said.
‘But The Normal Heart helped me to become proud and showed me just how much those who came before me had suffered and had fought for my right to exist as I am now.’
‘That’s why it holds a very special place in my heart. It’s a devastating yet beautiful play and playing the role of Felix is undoubtedly one of the greatest honours of my life. I hope the show moves you like it moved me.’
Alex said it had been a privilege to work with the production team and cast and witness the play come together. ‘I can only hope that, in rediscovering where we as a community have come from, where we need to go will be revealed.’
Forty years on from the experiences that Kramer documented, after a global epidemic that has killed 38 million people, according to the Terrence Higgins Trust, medical advances have transformed outcomes for those diagnosed with HIV. Very few people in the UK develop serious HIV-related illnesses due to antiretroviral treatment. According to UK government statistics, 98% of people living with diagnosed HIV in England can’t pass the virus on due to treatments that suppress the viral load.
Still, there was a 3% year-on-year increase in the number of those diagnosed with HIV and accessing care in England and Wales in 2022. The Terrence Higgins Trust is campaigning to end new cases of HIV in the UK by 2030. At least 10% of ticket sales for The Normal Heart at the ADC and all the show’s profits will be donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The Normal Heart, ADC Theatre, 30 January – 3 February at 7:45pm.
Photos: Jennifer Chen.
Pictured clockwise from top left: Alex Velody, Anna Peterson, Alice Weatherley, Jaysol Doy, Lea Cornelis, Eddie Adams and Dylan Stewart.