“It’s All Our Stories”: The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me At New Wimbledon Theatre
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If nothing else, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me is a prodigious feat of memory by a solo John Bell (Outlander’s Young Ian), a young man’s passage from Hicksville, USA to boys’ town New York, just as the HIV pandemic sweeps in. So this, the first London revival of David Drake’s moving monologue since it premiered at the King’s Head in 1994, is a good choice if you want to go see something in LGBT+ History Month.
“It’s all our stories,” says Drake in his introduction, and it’s certainly wide-ranging, with Bell playing his every-gay-man from wide-eyed innocence (“I like that!”) to hardcore 80s clone pumping iron, snorting poppers, discoing crazy. Referencing West Side Story, 42nd Street and A Chorus Line as timeframes, Larry Kramer’s own The Normal Heart gets only a glancing reference, alluded to in the title — but then, it didn’t have great tunes.
Other, more epic tales have been told of the so-called AIDS era (Angels In America, The Hours) but in compact form and with one performer, Drake and Bell cover the emotional waterfront — the death of lovers, society’s indifference to a crisis unfolding because it only affected “them”, and the ever-present threat of anti-gay violence — without leaning into self pity.
In Wimbledon Theatre’s Studio, the sparse setting and dressing up box of costumes makes for an intimate experience. It might be tempting for a young performer like Bell, who is impressive in this his stage debut, to treat this as a period piece, but his energy and passion make you feel like you could pop out now for a boogie at Studio 54.
Kramer himself, seminal gay rights and HIV activist as much as playwright, said “We must love each other or die!” This night proves the message still has meaning.
The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, SW19 1QG. Tickets from £22, until 26 February 2022.
Last Updated 11 February 2022