Meet the Cast of The Normal Heart: Ainsley Melham
In 2022, State Theatre Company South Australia presents our production of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking, multi-Tony Award-winning play, The Normal Heart. We’ll be interviewing the cast to chat about the importance of this play in the landscape of modern theatre and for LGBTQI+ communities. Read all the interviews.
We spoke with Ainsley Melham (Aladdin, Cinderella, Adelaide Festival’s Watershed) about his role in The Normal Heart as Ned Weeks’ (the fictional alter ego of writer Larry Kramer) lover and New York Times’ writer Felix.
Pictured: Ainsley in rehearsals for The Normal Heart
What was your first ever encounter with The Normal Heart?
My first encounter with The Normal Heart was quite recent. I read the play a couple of years ago and I feel like it has kept turning up in my life ever since.
What does this role mean to you?
Because this play is largely autobiographical, I can’t help but wonder how much of this character draws on the memory of a real person. Of course Kramer would have taken some artistic license when crafting his characters, but at their core they are very much real people who walked this earth before us, and it is extremely humbling to get the chance to explore their experiences on stage — especially as a young gay man living in 2022.
How do you identify with your character? Have you faced any obstacles in your own life similar to those of your character?
If you were a gay man living through the AIDS epidemic, and you had not contracted the virus yourself, you were, no doubt, watching your friends fight for their lives all around you. In 2016, at the age of 24, I lost my closest friend to a terminal illness. She was only a few years older than I. While my loss might not compare in scale, I feel it provides me a small affinity and some common ground with the character.
The Normal Heart is very much about the power of community – what’s a time where you personally experienced/witnessed the power of community?
The strength and resilience of the arts industry during the Covid pandemic is something that strikes me as a beautiful example of community. The arts industry was levelled by Covid, but it did not stop artists from connecting, creating, and finding new and innovative ways to keep community alive. At the heart of all community there is some form of creative endeavour, whether it is intentional or not — for example mounting a campaign to raise awareness about a newly discovered virus in the ‘80s requires sophistication, complexity, and indeed creativity. It feels apt, then, that we are coming back together after Covid to tell this story about community in one our most creative centres — the theatre.
The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer, directed by Dean Bryant, comes to the Dunstan Playhouse, 30 September to 15 October 2022.