Review: Safe Sex / On Tidy Endings
We check out two important short plays dealing with the influence of HIV and AIDS...
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This double bill playing at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden sees the UK premiere of two short plays by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles, Torch Song Trilogy). Both pieces deal with the influence of HIV and AIDS, examining lives and attitudes altered by the pandemic.
First up is Safe Sex, a feisty two hander that opens with a bang and relentlessly radiates as it steams along. CJ de Mooi and Cole Michaels star as a gay couple finding their way through the revised cultural and sexual landscapes imposed by the outbreak of disease, whilst also having to come to terms with a new public acknowledgement of homosexuality. (We were pleased to note the period setting being established with a lava lamp and a vintage edition of Gay Times on the bedside table.)
De Mooi – better known as one of BBC TV’s ‘Eggheads’ – quickly proves that he’s got more strings to his bow than you might expect, and turns in an accomplished and nuanced performance as Ghee – the cleanliness obsessive who needs to check the safe-sex pamphlet before each carnal act.
The aesthetically pleasing Michaels also impresses as Mead, solid and seductive – a sweaty bit of rough who doesn’t shower before sex, let alone after. There’s convincing chemistry between the pair that fizzes and crackles throughout, creating sparks whether fighting or fornicating.
Next up is On Tidy Endings, the meat of which is a confrontation between the gay lover and the ex-wife of a recently deceased AIDS sufferer. A stage full of half-packed cardboard boxes and stacks of VHS tapes starkly illustrates the trivial clutter that a life leaves behind – who will inherit the treasured teapot?
Deena Payne as Marion gives a mesmerising portrait of a woman striving to do the right thing in the face of a world turned upside-down, teasing delightful humour from painful predicament. Also taking centre-stage once more is CJ de Mooi, this time as Arthur – the broken and bereaved boyfriend.
De Mooi demonstrates skill and sensitivity, ably navigating his way through the labyrinthine layers of the role – and delivering capital contrast to his previous performance.
There’s hilarious support from Emma Blackman as the not-so-supportive solicitor, and Daniel Purves makes a splash as Jim, the boy who’s lost a father and gained an ‘uncle’ – we predict a bright future for this young star.
A pleasing pair of pieces that tackle a serious subject with humour and heart – snap up seats before it sells out.
Safe Sex and On Tidy Endings runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until May 17th. Full details at tristanbatestheatre.co.uk
The production is in support of the Make A Difference Trust. The MAD trust raises funds from the British Entertainment community and it’s audiences to support people living with HIV and AIDS and those in the entertainment industry facing hardship as a result of any long-term medical condition. madtrust.org.uk
Words Richard Unwin