CTR - Reviews of Positive

Positive

Tue 13th – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

Suzanne Duffy

at 01:50 on 16th Aug 2013

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A comedy about HIV seems like an unworkable premise, but I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Positive’ which was helpfully frank about the nature of the illness at the same time as being consistently and genuinely funny.

Writer, Shaun Kitchener, has created in Benji and Nikki (Will Marsh and Nathalie Barclay) two HIV sufferers who have normal lives and are easy to empathise with. Most of the humour comes from ordinary situations like awkward first dates and failed one-night stands, and it is this grounded mood that makes the audience view the characters who reject HIV sufferers as alien, as simply childish. The two flashback scenes were well handled and provided a necessary emotional backstory rather than simply being gratuitous pieces of showy scriptwriting.

Despite technical difficulties that meant the house lights stayed up throughout, the London based West Avenue Theatre Company forged ahead with confidence. Marsh excellently veered between being an affable, friendly character with a Britney Spears obsession, and a more troubled version of himself that emerged when, for example, his mother insensitively refused to drink from the same wine glass as him.

Kitchener’s own star-turn as wisecracking Matt, Benji’s new love interest, was a stand-out performance as he shifted from sarcastic to considerate, proving that not everyone who enters Benji’s world is going to be horrified by his HIV. Benji’s lovably brash doctor, Jennifer, is played beautifully by Jamie-Rose Monk, who brought humour and a cheeky flair to the character. The only niggle was the unresolved issue of Nikki and Greg’s relationship, which was left hanging rather than being satisfactorily tied up.

The phrase 'heart-warming' is clichéd, but it is justifiable to use it to describe this play: all the characters are so likable and it refuses to take itself too seriously. Most importantly, it did not preach, and successfully avoided the trap of sacrificing good drama to hammer home a message. In fact, it is the best issues-based drama I have seen in a long time. That the director, Rob Ellis, also managed to make it highly comic, without being cheesy, is laudable.

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Victoria Ibbett

at 10:10 on 16th Aug 2013

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Benji is trying to work out how to live with his positive HIV status, emotionally and socially. His best friend, Nikki, also has HIV, and is figuring out how to consent to the open-hearted acceptance of her partner, Greg. ‘Positive’ is a life-affirming comedy about young people figuring out their disease in a society that has loaded AIDs with a tremendous amount of stigma. ‘Positive’ manages both to amuse and inform. Despite the serious issues that it treats, the piece successfully steers clear of gloom and achieves a level of humour and lightness that is genuinely life-affirming.

Benji is played admirably by Will Marsh, a recent graduate of Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. By turns sweet and anxious, Benji is a likeable character whose struggle with HIV is a struggle for acceptance. The play chronicles his hit-and-miss love life, as well as his erratic relationship with his mother, whose previous generation perspective has been rocked by Benji’s homosexuality, let alone his HIV status. It is Benji’s appeal that is central to the play’s success and Marsh plays him sympathetically, contributing to the genuine pathos that this play achieves.

Marsh is supported by a strong cast whose talents by no means pale in comparison. Special mention is deserved by Shaun Kitchener and Jamie-Rose Monk, whose characters were played with real verve. Kitchener’s timing was impeccable and particularly witty, while Monk’s rendering of the anxious but loving Jennifer was absolutely convincing.

‘Positive’ benefits from a stellar script. The characters that it evokes are believable and rounded, even within a single hour time frame. Wit and humour are the central tenets of its composition: even in the darker moments of the play I was never far from a smile, and even a laugh. The writer, also Kitchener, deserves a greater audience for this play than he received. It is an intelligent and impressive piece of new writing that merits greater exposure than the fifteen odd spectators that dotted the auditorium.

Unfortunately, technical issues meant that the play lacked a black-out option. As a result, the scene-changes were awkward, despite the distractingly loud Britney Spears that drowned the auditorium every time. However, the simple set was functional and adequate: neither too over-wrought, nor too bare. It was a set that absolutely communicated to and of the characters, without excess of this goal.

I recommend ‘Positive’ as a show that should entertain and enlighten. Although a few issues hold it back from the full five star, I am pleased to have witnessed the show and delighted to advise it.

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