“The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me” at the Studio, New Wimbledon Theatre

David Drake’s hour-plus monologue covers coming out, the AIDS epidemic and activism. Steven Dexter’s forceful direction of this off-Broadway hit does the script justice and the performance from John Bell is a stage debut to cheer.

The show’s subject matter is important, but this ground has been covered before, not least by the playwright whose name features in the title of the show. Legacies – cultural and political – are important to Drake. But he also brings an originality that offers something new, even if the writing is sometimes laboured.

Infused with a love of song, from musicals to disco, the language is heavy with rhythm. Bell delivers the script well but the lines themselves aren’t easy to follow. The twists and turns in Drake’s thinking are invigorating but also dense. You might think of the show’s segments (a childhood prayer, nights spent cruising or protesting) as lyrics waiting for songs.

The language doesn’t make the show an easy one to perform. All the more credit to Bell, who enhances a sense of continuity and character for scenes that too frequently feel disconnected. The actor juggles a mix of sex and violence bravely and brings humour to the show successfully.

Aided by exceptional lighting design from Aaron Dootser, the show has plenty of emotion and insight. The strongest moments focus on theatre. Yes, Drake is preaching to the converted (I’m not surprised the piece is award winning) but skilfully including lyrics in his script is only the starting point.

The title refers to Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, only recently revived at the National Theatre. It’s that play that leads to the political awakening we watch here. Reflecting and admiring on culture and community, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me serves as a mirror that reflects the importance of representation in a rewarding fashion.

Until 26 February 2022

Photo by Mark Senior