Thursday 15 August 2013
Theatre review: As Is
This attempt to be all-encompassing runs the risk of losing focus, but fortunately Andrew Keates' production manages to anchor everything together, with a pair of appealing central performances backed up by a busily multitasking supporting cast.
If As Is sometimes fails to coalesce dramatically, it's down to an admirable ambition in how much it tries to convey about an epidemic that was at the time as mysterious as it was frightening. Inevitably the gay experience of AIDS is the focal point but we also get glimpses of how the disease doesn't discriminate along the lines people thought it did - with Anna Tierney as the pregnant, HIV positive wife of a drug addict joining in with a support group.
It's also admirable how this early foray into writing about the disease isn't, like may of its successors, without its lighter side. A thread of gallows humour runs through it alongside it's characters' insistence on entertaining each other with terrible old jokes; and a pair of sexually frustrated volunteers (Paul Standell and Jordan Bernarde) on a support phone line provide a scene of comic relief. (As the following publicity shot may illustrate, Standell convincing as someone who's not getting enough offers of sex requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief and some pretty good acting.)
With complacency about improving survival rates leading to a rise in infections again, this revival is a welcome reminder of the horror and indignity of AIDS and the combination of terror and hatred that greeted it when it first emerged, with people afraid to touch or even breathe the same air as someone infected, for fear of catching something. Hoffman's attempts to educate on a number of fronts sometimes result in the play feeling too bitty, but it always has the touching central relationship to come back to, and Keates' production handles it sensitively but not too delicately - and even manages to find something uplifting within the bleak context.
As Is by William M. Hoffman is booking until the 31st of August at the Finborough Theatre.
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.