by William M Hoffman.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 31 August 2013.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 August.
Leaping back a generation to the first shock of a new disease.
William M Hoffman’s play lost out to Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart in the 1980s AIDS drama tussle. It had one east London outing on the fringe, and now has a west London revival.
The play grew from Hoffman’s shock as friends started dying from diseases that should have cleared-up, and despite the healthiest of lifestyles. It’s easy nowadays to be unaware of the sheer shock-and-awe aspect of what became identified as HIV and AIDS.
Andrew Keates’ production, with designer Philip Lindley’s assertively dank institutional hospice setting (the portal masks some of the background action throughout), opens with a gradual accretion of individuals coming to register for medical treatment. Together these dampen the humour Hoffman found in his story.
The play starts with a short monologue from a nurse, who seems to want to pump energy, and Oirishness, into proceedings. Keates makes active use of his large cast, so it’s some time before the focus settles on partners Rich and Saul. After the opening, it’s an effort to realise Hoffman’s starting before HIV has struck.
There’s tension as the two split-up; who gets what from their home still seems all-important. Relationships are tested when Rich’s new love backs-off at knowing his sexual partner has ‘the disease’. It’s then that, as is the case in many non-HIV relationships, gay or straight, love is sorted into its selfish and unselfish constituents.
The story of Rich and Saul is meshed within a picture of the gay community, shiny and slippy as leather, edging into downtown drugs deals in shady corners to help towards an annealing overdose. Tangible images of hedonistic street life struggle to counter the darkness and the queues of infection from which their actors emerge, while love, in a surprisingly traditional way, stands as the one quality set to conquer virtually anything.
That’s helped by the sense Tom Colley and David Poyner provide of people coping on a practical daily level with an unimaginable shock to their lives. As Is may now seem somewhat as was but it’s still a sharp reminder of what matters when most things cease to matter.
Hospice Worker/Business Partner/2nd Woman/Nurse: Clare Kissane.
Rich: Tom Colley.
Saul: David Poyner.
Chet/Clone 3/John/Tom Kay: Tom Kay.
Lily/1st Woman/PWA/Drug Dealer: Anna Tierney.
Brother/Pickup 1/Bartender/Cop/PWA/Barney: Jordan Bernade.
Doctor/Clone 1/Marty/2nd Man/PWA/Drug Dealer: John Hastings.
Doctor/Pickup 2/Clone 2/Vinnie/1st Man/PWA/Pat/Hospital Worker: Paul Standell.
Director: Andrew Keates.
Designer: Philip Lindley.
Lighting: Tim Delling.
Sound: Will Jackson.
Composer: Matthew Strachan.
Costume: Will Jackson.
Voice coach: Sarah Stephenson.
Assistant director: Maud Dromgoole.