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Lonely Planet review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘wry and gently moving’

Aaron Vodovoz and Alexander McMorran in Lonely Planet at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

Charts festoon the walls of Jody’s Maps, the sleepy shop where Steven Dietz’s Lonely Planet follows the oddball friendship of two discreetly gay men in an unnamed US town in the 1980s.

Written within a year of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg, Dietz’s quietly spoken piece likewise charts the devastation wrought by HIV and Aids. His best-known work, it premiered in the UK only last year in this production, which transfers from the Tabard Theatre in west London.

Alexander McMorran’s acutely observed shop-owner Jody is a sensitive soul whose urbane exterior belies the turmoil beneath. Meanwhile, Aaron Vodovoz’s Carl spouts tall tales as he surreptitiously plants chairs in the shop. McMorran and Vodovoz spark off each other playfully: theirs is a genial, platonic relationship, yet much darker themes lurk beneath. The banter gradually gives way to discussion of their friends who are dying of a mysterious, untreatable disease – and Carl and Jody’s urgent need to be tested to discover their fate.

The writing is freighted with metaphor, in a way that can feel heavy-handed. While the maps open a window on the wider world, their varied projections are shown to provide a distorted view of reality. And it turns out the chairs remain as the lasting traces of the friends they have lost.

David Allan’s increasingly cluttered set is a cartophile’s paradise, sanctuary from the outside world, while Peter West’s subtle sound design evokes the street beyond.

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Wry and gently moving account of friends dealing with the 1980s Aids crisis in the US