Positive tells the story of Benji, a gay Londoner looking to revive his love, sex and social lives one year after testing HIV+. But if Benji’s mantra – If Britney can get through 2007, then I can get through today – doesn’t give you the heads up let me make it clear: this is not a moral depress-fest, but a hilarious nuanced comedy of modern manners. As the writer Kitchener states in the programme introduction: ‘nobody dies’. At one point I laughed so hard my theatre companion had to restrain me from keeling over into Marcio Andrey Santarosa’s clever dual reference giant round pill and plus sign stage, upon which the action is delivered. From the ground up this is a polished, satisfying story: Kitchener expertly teasing at first hilarity and then real emotional depth and punch from his subject matter.Timothy George’s ‘Benji’ and Sally George’s overbearing mother ‘Margo’ (yes, they are mother and son in real life) give stunning performances, managing to move from an amusing confrontation to genuine tenderness in a devastating second. Yet again I found myself being steadied by my friend, as I attempted and failed to fight back tears. And it is here in the meat of the play that Kitchener’s work really comes into it’s own: this is not a story about HIV, but about life and how we choose to live it. About love and how we choose to give it. Director Harry Burton must be congratulated for bringing the best from his cast, never allowing laughs or sentimentality to get in the way of the real power of the piece.
A special mention for Claire Greenaway’s Health Physician Jennifer, who was the perfect picture of professionalism, concern and genuine care I recognise from my own consultants and carers I see as part of my chronic health condition. Yet again Kitchener’s script shuns the saccharine or obvious, and instead delivers a slice of reality in what is a tightly structured and deftly delivered play. I positively suggest you go and see it.
Positive is on at Park Theatre until the 1st August 2015.
Jennifer Haley’s futuristic The Nether enjoyed its UK premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, and the successful and visually stunning production has now transferred to the Duke of York Theatre.
Set at an unknown time in the future, the Internet has become a total sensory immersive experience and is called The Nether. Many people spend the majority of their waking hours online, with ‘shades’ choosing to ‘cross’ fully and leave their bodies shrivelling up on life support machines ‘in-world’. Detective Morris is investigating the Nether dealings of a secretive advanced coder known as Papa, who has created a seemingly idyllic Victorian era escape called The Hideaway. Paying guests can visit and experience the sight, sound, feel and smell of trees, which are increasingly rare in-world. But trees are not the only things that can be seen, heard, touched and smelt: within The Hideaway live four angelic children with whom guests can play. The mention of blood dripping axes on the wall the first ominous sign something sinister takes place here. But if everyone ‘playing’ the parts of the guests and children at The Hideaway are consenting over eighteens can things experienced in The Nether really be immoral and unethical, or are they as Papa suggests: without consequence?
Questioning whether executing sexual and murderous acts online causes users to replicate them in real life feels dreadfully current in a time when we have easy access to violent computer games and porn, and when extremist organisations use sophisticated online recruitment techniques to reel people in. But The Nether delves deeper to question how we should, or could deal with sexual perversion. If everyone is a consenting adult is there still the risk of harm? Can sexual ‘sickness’ be treated by enacting fantasies online?
It makes for a brave but deeply troubling piece, the unease of the audience choreographed through the skilful structure of the play. The set is a marvel, combining images of technology and nostalgia to invoke a frighteningly realistic new world. Perdita Hibbins the eleven year old who plays the pivotal role of Iris, one of The Hideaway’s children, delivered an unnervingly mature performance. Which raises a serious question about the suitability and exposure of this material to a child? Due to the complex sexual issues involving minors explored in this play I would not recommend it for those under the age of sixteen.
The Nether by Jennifer Haley is on at the Duke of York theatre until 25th April.
The housing crisis is clearly the hot topic of the moment, as explored by both Game by Mike Bartlett at the Almeida Theatre and now Philip Ridley’s Radiant Vermin at Soho Theatre.
On a sparse brilliant white stage a young couple Jill and Ollie, played by Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey, tell us about how they came to have their dream home. They are offered a free, but run down house in a dilapidated part of town by a Mephistopheles figure called Miss Dee, played with aplomb by Amanda Daniels. When Ollie accidentally kills a homeless intruder and the vagrant’s body disappears and is replaced by Jill’s dream kitchen, the couple realise renovations on their home rely on a murder.
Ridley’s funny and energetic satire on greed and consumerism races along, as the couple try to convince you their actions are in the best interests of their child. The play builds toward a truly extraordinaire party scene, where Whelan and Michael Verey exhilaratingly play a total of twelve characters at speed and with huge success. A triumph of writing, acting, and direction: it was quite a spectacle.
A clever, amusing and probing satire Radiant Vermin asks the question of the audience: what would you do? Well, I would go and see this play.
Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley is on at the Soho Theatre until 12th April.