Moment of Grace – Hope Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Bren Gosling

Director: Su Gilroy

Reflections on the HIV epidemic of the 1980s have been particularly prevalent in the last two years with Jack Holden’s Cruise premiering in the West End last summer and the success of TV representations of the era like It’s a Sin and Pose appearing around the same time. But Bren Gosling’s play Moment of Grace has something new to say, focusing on the shame and fear that patients, nurses and families endured before a princess helped to change the narrative.

In April 1987 three people await the arrival of Princess Diana at London’s Middlesex Hospital – nurse Jude whose housemates thinks she works in geriatrics, patient Andrew who asks not to be photographed to avoid anyone knowing why he’s there and fireman Donnie, miles away at home wondering how Diana can be allowed into an HIV ward without protection.

Gosling’s play, performed online during lockdown and now staged at the Hope Theatre, is a powerful 55-minute three-character piece exploring the events of a single day but also the much wider social and cultural impact of HIV and AIDS at a time when there was little public understanding or sympathy for the patients or those who cared for them. Gosling’s achievement is to weave those together in the moving and evocative dramatisation of an event that created as much anticipation as excitement.

Each character tells their own story, speaking in the past tense but simultaneously acting out some of the movements and conversations as they recount the events of the day. From Jude catching her bus in the rain to Donnie having to make his own dinner of tinned spaghetti, Gosling’s writing is warm and immersive, scenarios leap into being and are instantly relatable in this play about ordinary people and their encounter with celebrity.

But Gosling is not distracted by the glamour of the Princess of Wales – in fact Andrew and Jude’s descriptions of the big moment are relatively short – and instead Gosling fleshes out the world each of his characters inhabit, giving them time to explore and explain the painful aspects of their experience. Andrew movingly recalls the moment of his diagnosis that triggered melancholy reflections on his earlier life while the kind and maternal Jude worries how even her friends would react if they knew her real job, ever aware of the prejudice and violence of those beyond the hospital.

Donnie is perhaps the least successful character and although his connection to the others is not quite what you think it will be, as the voice of that dismissive public he is given less depth and room to develop than the others. Richard Costello’s performance is engaging however, approachable and decent at first before betraying the reductive views that slightly side-line the character in the middle before Costello creates a poignant ending.

Narisha Lawson pitches her performance just right as Jude, filled with compassion, even love for the men she has cared for, speaking of them with nothing but respect and dignity. That her kindness is met with judgement and suspicion by the wider world comes through well in Lawson’s performance as Jude tries to balance her sadness with a small degree of self-protection.

James Taylor-Thomas as Andrew exemplifies the dignity that Jude highlights, quietly accepting the inevitable while still trying to protect anyone who knew him from the truth. Again Taylor-Thomas aims this well, avoiding sentimentality but with a touching honesty about the secrecy and the burden of shame placed on men who, as Andrew experiences, never knew how long they had to live.

Moment of Grace is a deeply affecting short play, one in which Gosling uses three dramatic and well realised monologues to skilfully reflect on the courage and suffering of patients and their nurses. No one wanted to know they existed until a princess held their hands.

Runs until 16 July 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Moving and evocative

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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