Positive by Shaun Kitchener
Directed by Harry Burton
On at The Park Theatre (London) until Aug 1st 2015
Living with HIV may not seem like obvious fuel for comedy however the it seems there is definitely something to be said for confronting the darkness with humour. Kitchener has created a moving and witty play. The time taken to develop and refine it clearly shows. It is slick and tight, the story unfurls delightfully with the perfect balance of funny-bone-tickling and heartstring-pulling.
The design is brilliant, simple and uncluttered but with a quirky, vibrant flavour that fits with the generally upbeat tone of the play.
The cast is talented and well chosen. They were perhaps a little on edge but this is probably unsurprising when you have press night clashing awkwardly with a tube strike. They rose to the occasion admirably however and relaxed into the performance quickly, drawing the audience with them.
Timothy George’s portrayal of the lead, Benji, is sensitive and insightful. He is neither infallible martyr nor tragically flawed hero. He is deeply, unequivocally human, utterly relatable but also individual and distinctive. The character manages to stir the audience’s empathy and investment in his story without being a bland place holder the audience can graft themselves onto. Nathalie Barclay’s Nikki is energetic, caring and charmingly highly strung. Benji’s mother, played by Sally George is delightful, providing some deliciously cringe-worthy moments as well as some truly heart breaking moments of motherly confusion and desperation.
The stand out performance for me was from Shaun Kitchener himself in the role of Matt. Some writers are good at performing their own work. Many are surprisingly bad at it. Kitchener however, is superb. He has an apparently effortless light touch and perfect comic timing, a real joy to watch.
I feel that in my eagerness to express how enjoyable an experience this play is, I have neglected to give sufficient weight to the way in which this Positive skillfully negotiates a difficult theme. HIV is understandably scary. The beauty of this play is that it doesn’t deny that, rather it takes your hand and says “yes, this is scary, but it’s important and here are some things you might not have realised or thought about”. It never feels preachy or didactic but I imagine many people will walk out with more of an insight into the experience of some of the thousands of people in the UK who are HIV positive.
If you need more encouragement to go and see this play, its on at the Park Theatre which is such a lovely venue, especially in the summer. So if you have a free evening before the 1st of August, book a ticket!
©Alexandra Birchfield 2015
Alexandra is a New Zealand born writer and actor who has been living in the UK for 4 years. She spent the first three years in Glasgow studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is now living in London with two lovely flatmates and one very pampered cat.