Pros: An entertaining, informative and moving concept, supported by great actors and clever direction.
Cons: At times, the introvert nature of the central character makes him a little tricky to identify with.
Positive is the story of Benji (Timothy George), a young gay man living in London, who has been diagnosed with HIV. We follow Benji on a journey of personal identity, as he manages his health, social life, relationships and self-image.
Considering the challenging subject matter, the first thing to say about this play is that it is very, very funny. Whilst HIV and humour may not seem like an obvious match, moments of dry dialogue with perfect comic timing had the audience laughing out loud. Ryan J Brown’s performance as the promiscuous Olly was particularly hilarious, offering comic relief, whilst simultaneously driving home more serious messages about perception and social attitudes towards the disease.
This style of comedy goes hand-in-hand with the second most notable quality of the piece: its realism. Every element of the production feels contemporary and relatable and even during the more dramatic scenes, the characters and dialogue seem genuine, never crossing over into ‘theatrical’. Nathalie Barclay and Jamie-Rose Monk are especially striking in the roles of best friend Nikki and medical advisor Jennifer. Both characters were utterly convincing and the depth brought by Barclay and Monk made empathising with their situations effortless.
Interestingly, I found that Benji himself was the trickiest character to connect with as an audience member, perhaps because the narrative requires him to be largely introvert. Whilst George’s portrayal is perfectly suited to Benji’s character, I felt as though letting the audience a little further into his head might have created a greater emotional connection.
As well as looking at outsiders’ perceptions of HIV, the play really explores a sense of personal identity and what it means to the individual who is ‘positive’. Addressing both the facts and the misconceptions, the piece is a profoundly honest and a refreshing blend of information and entertainment.
The performance space at Waterloo East Theatre is fully utilised throughout Positive, with actors positioned both on and around the stage, to signify internal and external settings. Inventive use of the set, in conjunction with lighting changes, moves the story smoothly between different times and locations. The same sofa, table and chairs represent Benji’s home, a nightclub, a medical clinic and a restaurant, without ever becoming confusing for the audience. Background sound effects such as a bathroom shower are occasionally used and it would have been nice to hear a few more of these, as I felt they successfully extended the world of the play beyond the visuals of the set.
Tackling a difficult subject, Positive walks a skilful line between sensitivity and over-caution. Casting off the myths and misconceptions, this play offers a fresh and very current view of a widely recognised but perhaps not fully understood disease. Audiences will leave the theatre feeling entertained, moved and informed.
Writer: Shaun Kitchener
Director: James Callas Ball
Producer: Alice Wright
Booking Until: 1st June 2014
Box Office: 020 7928 0060
Booking Link: http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/positive%20.html