Hot on the heels of the extremely successful Chemsex Monologues , comes another masterful meditation from author Pat Cash and the Dragonflies Theatre Company – this time examining how the experience of living with HIV has altered over the past thirty-odd years.
While the backbone of this piece is still formed from powerful solo speeches – a memorably familiar feature of Cash’s previous canon – there is some blurring of the boundaries here, and we do get to see some characters interact with each other, an approach that results in one of the finest pieces of work to date from one of our absolute favourite authors.
We open in the present day – a Tinder date between Alex and Nick is going well, until Nick reveals his newly diagnosed HIV positive status. This is the jumping on point for a tale that voyages back to the dark days of the nineteen eighties – the beginnings of the outbreak, and an enthralling narrative that jumps time-tracks with aplomb, giving us a real sense of connectivity and continuity as it contrasts and compares the different decades. Changes in public understanding and social stigma are handled with skill and sensitivity.
Sean Heart is captivating as Nick, giving us a penetrating portrait of a young man coming to terms with a very recent diagnosis, and Dragonflies regular Denholm Spurr is immediately recognisable as loveable but clueless ‘every-gay’ Alex. Spurr is particularly proficient at bittersweet comedy – notably in a scene in which he attempts to escape from a date by climbing out of a toilet window…
Straddling the time-zones as HIV nurse Irene is the delightful Charly Flyte – another familiar face from previous productions. Flyte is as magnificent as ever, imbuing Irene with real warmth and precision passion. Playing Barney, a writer who was saved by the nineteen nineties medication, is Jonathan Blake – a grounded and moving performance from an actor who was genuinely one of the first people to have been diagnosed with AIDS in the UK.
Director Luke Davies brings the script to life with energy and enterprise, always ensuring that our attention is held. Travelling the timeline from ‘Gay Plague!’ headlines right up to this current period of PrEP – The HIV Monologues is a piece that, while full of optimism, doesn’t shy away from the very real prejudices that are still aimed at HIV positive people to this very day. It’s educational and informative, but at the play’s centre are characters that walk off the page and straight into our hearts. Another triumph from the team that have so firmly and successfully put the spirit of community into modern theatre.
GT gives The HIV Monologues — 5/5
The HIV Monologues will be performed at The Kings Head Theatre for two special World AIDS Day performances on the 20th and 21st of November. All proceeds will be donated to Positive East to commemorate World AIDS Day. For full details see kingsheadtheatre.com.