Thursday, 16 July 2015

Theatre review: Positive

The first generation of HIV/AIDS plays kicked off with As Is, which was seen at the Finborough in 2013 and is currently being revived at Trafalgar Studios. But we now live in a very different environment in which HIV is much more treatable, but on the downside this has led to confidence bordering on flippancy about unsafe sex, with rates of infection, especially among young gay men, on the rise again. So Shaun Kitchener's play could perhaps be part of an overdue new wave of theatre on the subject. It's one in which, as the title suggests, Positive doesn't just have to be the test result but can be the outlook too, but the fact that it's not an automatic death sentence doesn't mean everything goes smoothly either. Benji (Timothy George) was diagnosed HIV-Positive a year ago, and although he's found a supportive friend and flatmate in Nikki (Nathalie Barclay) he's rarely ventured out of his room in that time except to go to work.

His one attempt to go to a club went badly, so when Nikki and her boyfriend Greg (Paul Heelis) set him up on a blind date he resists. It'll end up being the first step, though, in his finding a way to live with his diagnosis.


Harry Burton's production, on a pill-shaped in-the-round set from Marcio Andrey Santarosa, takes a while to find its feet, its mix of gentle drama and humour feeling awkward and underpowered. There's early highlights from Ryan J Brown's terrible dancing as Olly, a student cringingly attempting to pick up Benji. But things get more interesting with the dinner date; Kitchener also appears in the play as blind date Matt, and has kept the best lines for himself - Matt's thunkingly tactless but strangely endearing turn of phrase helps pick up the play's energy levels.


Positive starts to fall into place a lot more in the second act, with both the drama - Benji's health issues starting to look minor compared to Nikki's - and the comedy - meetings with a super-enthusiastic sexual health doctor (Claire Greenway,) or Benji's mother Margo (George's real-life mother Sally George*) turning up in the middle of a date - work a lot more smoothly. The play still had a few niggles for me (the flashback sequences don't quite work, and after establishing such a strong personality in the first act Matt becomes a bit generic in the second) but as a first full-length play from Kitchener it certainly shows a lot of promise, and gives a modern look into living with HIV that we don't really see much of.

Positive by Shaun Kitchener is booking until the 1st of August at Park Theatre 90.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

*real families onstage is definitely a major 2015 meme. The Vote had a Judi/Finty team-up, there's two real pairs of sisters alternating the kids in The House of Mirrors and Hearts, but the main one is fathers and sons: Downstairs from this theatre at the moment they've got Hansons, we've already had Shrapnels and there's Foxes due in the West End soon.

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