Review: The HIV Monologues
Image (c) Eliza Goroya
Jonathan Blake - Barney
Kane Surry - Nick
Denholm Spurr - Alex
Charly Flyte - Irene
Alex knows nothing about HIV but knew he should have worn the power bottom singlet.
Nick is his Tinder date who's just been diagnosed positive, struggling with self-worth.
Their date is going amazingly until Nick discloses his diagnosis ...
And Alex reacts in the worst way.
Through meeting Irene, an Irish nurse who treated AIDS in the 1980s, and Barney, who was saved by the 1996 medication, Alex gets on PrEP, but will he be able to win Nick back?
After a critically acclaimed launch at the end of 2016, Dragonflies Theatre's new production returns in 2017, exploring HIV amongst gay men through a series of interwoven stories.
There will be post-show Q and As on 7, 8, 13, 14 February.
This is a series of interwoven monologues which follow the same format as Patrick Cash's other work The Chemsex Monologues.
Individual characters tell their part of a story and then pass it on seamlessly for the next character to develop, adding their own experiences of events to the plot.
It's a powerful format, enhanced by Mr Cash's clear, well-crafted and absorbing storytelling, with the added bonus here of a neat twist in the tail.
However, even if there are plenty of comedic moments to enjoy, this is most definitely a serious piece of work, because the central subject - HIV infection - is still a matter that drives fear into the hearts of even the strongest.
In these monologues, we start in the present and are then taken back to the dire days of the 1980s and early 90s, before the development and widespread availability of effective drugs to stave-off the horrendous effects of HIV and AIDS which allow hideous, life-threatening diseases and illnesses to develop in the body.
Alex (Denholm Spurr) lives a hand-to-mouth existence as an actor.
He is a somewhat naive young man - though not in every department - and, strangely for an actor, has a rather lacklustre repertoire in chat-up lines.
When he meets Nick (Kane Surry), they are immediately attracted to each other and though their meeting initially indicates relationship potential (or "husband material" as Alex describes Nick) hopes are dashed when Nick tells Alex that he is HIV positive and Alex panics.
The link between the encounter between these two men living in the present day is Barney (Jonathan Blake), a writer and producer that Alex is meeting for an audition.
The meeting is set to take place, rather oddly it might seem, in a hospital.
But that device allows us to morph back in time to the 1980s where we meet Irene (Charly Flyte), a young nursing recruit from Ireland who has just started work at a hospital.
It's through her that we learn of newspaper bigotry with inflammatory headlines like "Britain threatened by gay plague", but also learn of the kindness of medical staff willing to go out on a limb to help their patients.
And that leads us to Barney, an older man whose partner died in the early days of HIV who tells us of his inability to completely deal with his grief.
Having dealt with the past, Mr Cash returns us to the present to see how things work out between Nick and Alex, providing insight into how people today can cope with HIV infection.
Back in the directorial chair from The Chemsex Monologues, Luke Davies astutely allows the fine ensemble cast the room to breathe freely in their characters' skins, which lends an uncluttered, natural feel to the proceedings, amplifying and intensifying the well-framed, emotive storyline.
I suspect that for some, like me, there will be moments in this piece which will evoke still distressing, still raw memories.
Like sitting on the edge of a hospital bed holding hands with a dying friend or lover, wracked by almost unimaginably terrible illnesses and reduced from a healthy young person to mere skin and bone, with little of their faculties remaining.
It would be wrong, though, to imagine these monologues are morbidly depressing - quite the contrary, there's hope here.
And neither are they simply about gay men and their lifestyles.
They are about living with a fatal disease which is easy to pass on to other people, how as humans beings we deal with that situation, how we deal with grief, and how the dedication, hard work and kindness of complete strangers can make heartbreakingly tragic situations vaguely tolerable.
Though he does seem to possess an irrepressible urge to employ shock tactics at times, Mr Cash rightly and effectively documents the then and now of HIV infection, leaving us to remember the immensely sad and shocking days of the past, but signposting ways to cope with the future.
Impeccable, poignant and informative storytelling, hugely recommended.
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Our show listing for The HIV Monologues
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