Originally written in 1992 by Steven Deitz at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, Lonely Planet is a gripping two-character play set in a small American town in the 1980s. A poster depicting a gay man with lesions all over his torso pops up in a local map store. With no Facebook, Instagram, mobile phones, or internet, this is precisely how society became aware of the mysterious disease that began plaguing the nation and the world. So what exactly was it like to be a gay man during this seemingly uncontrollable outbreak of the 1980s and 1990s?
Well, it's probably one of the most horrific and tragic things you could ever read or hear about. Perhaps the most shocking fact about this dark time in history is that religious Americans had long since considered homosexuality to be a disease, and with homosexual men beginning to drop dead left and right, they finally had the proof to justify their hateful views. It was a common every-day occurrence for a gay man to see or hear derogatory remarks, such as "AIDS kills f*gs dead!", and to see their best friends covered in purple plague-like lesions all over their face and body.
It was also the norm to see a funeral every day and many Americans felt that the gays deserved it and that it was simply just God doing his holy work. Imagine living in a world where nearly everyone hated you and wished you were dead simply for being who you were born to be. Many gay men could not handle the lack of support from their families or from a government that didn't seem to care to fund research until they later came to realise that it was affecting heterosexuals as well. The gay community was completely alone on a lonely planet. Some gay men even gave up because they couldn't handle watching everyone they knew and loved disappear one by one and they would intentionally contract the virus (seroconvert) just so they could be put out of their misery. The gay community fought long and hard for research funding and it wasn't until the mid-1990s when the proper pills were introduced to the market that could suppress the virus.
While Lonely Planet does not chronicle all of these incredibly sad and depressing facets of the AIDS epidemic, it does capture the inner struggle that many men in the gay community faced when they were forced to come to terms with the illness and get tested. It follows shopowner Jody and a frequent customer of his store, Carl, as one day Jody begins to notice that chairs begin popping up in his store. The chairs were planted by Carl in order to commemorate a member of the community who had died from the rampant disease.
Lonely Planet, which has some moments of comedy but is mainly a depiction of this tragic period, stars Alexander McMorran (Miracle on 34th Street, Romeo and Juliet) as Jody and Aaron Vodovoz (Silent Planet, Bad Jews) as Carl. It is directed by Ian Brown who is now the Associate Director at Theatre Royal. It will premiere at Trafalgar Studios on 12 June 2018 and will run until the day of London Gay Pride on 7 July 2018.
The thought-provoking play will also feature 7 special Q&A sessions that will cover relevant topics that the gay community faces today. See below for a detailed breakdown of the 7 Q&A sessions and be sure to catch this emotionally significant production for its very limited run this summer!
Friday 15 June
- Jonathan Blake - actor, Gay Rights Activist and one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in the UK. Twitter = @sweetbriar49
Tuesday 19 June - Hosted by Ian Brown, director of Lonely Planet
- David Stuart - Researcher, policy-maker, educator, writer and lecturer on the issues of sexual wellbeing/culture, substance use and HIV. He currently manages the ChemSex support programmes at 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic in London.
- Patrick Cash - Patient champion at 56 Dean Street Clinic, Patrick is a writer and journalist living in London.
Friday 22 June
- Leigh Chislett - 56 Dean Street Clinic Manager and producer of the documentary AIDS: Doctors and Nurses Tell Their Stories. Leigh has first-hand experience as a nurse working onwards for the AIDS patients during the 80’s.
- Remziye Kunelaki - Lead Psychosexual Therapist at Dean Street 56 Clinic and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Tuesday 26 June
- Mike Youle - doctor and clinical researcher specialising in HIV treatment, publicised the concept of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
- Michael Brady - Sexual health and HIV consultant, Medical Director of the Terrence Higgins Trust
- Yusef Azad - Director of Strategy for the National AIDS Trust
Friday 29 June
- Rupert Whitaker - doctor, co-founder of the Terrence Higgins Trust and one of Europe’s longest-surviving people with HIV. Twitter = @RupertWhitaker
Tuesday 3 July
Friday 6 July
- Rebecca Tallon-De Havilland - author, sexual health/HIV advocate, business person and the first Irish person to have gender reassignment surgery in 1989. Twitter = @BexDeHavilland
Special Ticket Offers: Tickets are just £15 with no booking fees for the preview performances of Lonely Planet on the 12th, 13th, and 14th of June.
Starting on the 1st of June, the See-It-First Offer will go live and you will be able to purchase tickets for just £25 for performances between the 15th and 29th of June.
Purchase your tickets to Lonely Planet at Trafalgar Studios here.