Review: First Time

5*
Waterside (Manchester)
This production has now closed.

Nathaniel can’t forget his first time. He’s had it playing on repeat for the last fifteen years.

First Time is HIV+queer artist and activist, Nathanial Hall’s, one man show about attempting to stay positive in a negative world. Nathaniel recalls his first time having sex at the age of sixteen, the shock of being diagnosed with HIV two weeks after his 17th birthday and his ongoing journey.

The play is all about breaking the stigma surrounding HIV – and it’s an honest and emotional play that both explains his experience and expels a lot of the myths surrounding the virus (the best of which were in a fun audience game).

The piece begins with the aftermath of a party – and Nathaniel reading listacals about ancient condoms – and it’s this sense of humour that’s retained throughout the play in a tongue-in-cheek way. He takes the audience to his prom (with a whole load of early-naughties references), shows how he imagines his life could be if he wasn’t gay (a lot of babies); replicates throwing up using cans of silly string; scoffing pills out of a cereal bowl. All of this humour has a dark underbelly – it makes the audience laugh but also reminds them of the seriousness of what Nathaniel has faced over the last fourteen years and the challenging nature of his diagnosis.

Nathaniel’s diagnosis and ongoing survival are a really important part of the play, and in particular it’s celebration of the NHS was well worth considering – how fortunate we are to have the best healthcare service in the world with such high level of care and support. The play also explores Nathaniel’s journey from initial diagnosis through to the management of the virus: how he has learnt to battle and tell his story, how he shared the news with his parents and the sense of hope he feels for the fact that he has survived.

Watching the play on world AIDS day made it even more poignant, and a candlelit vigil added a moment for reflection and remembrance. When the show finished, I spent some time reading comments from the audience – and it was touching to see how many people had found comfort in the story, and one that stuck with me in particular was the comment, ‘I no longer feel ashamed’. First Time is the epitome of why it’s so important that these stories are told, that stigmas are erased and change is put into place.

© Megan Holland 2018

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