DramaLondonReviewVAULT Festival

First Time – VAULT Festival, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer: Nathaniel Hall

Director: Chris Hoyle

The VAULT Festival has got off to a cracking start, and the cavernous and labyrinthine tunnels under Waterloo station have already seen starry reviews, and sold out shows (we’re looking at you Jamali Maddix!). Playing his part in these promising early days is Nathaniel Hall and his show First Time, a funny, but moving show about the stigma of being HIV+.

Hall contracted HIV the first time he had sex, with an older man he met in a park in Stockport at the age of 16. A few months later, Hall becomes ill on a family holiday to Minorca. Back in Britain, he goes to a G.U.M. clinic, and discovers, devastatingly, that he is HIV. First Time is serious stuff, charting a truly life-changing experience, but Hall’s approach on stage is gentle and measured.

Humour runs through the whole piece, as he relates his school prom, and imagined weddings to the head girl. Even when his younger self spirals out of control, taking illegal drugs, or, later, when he stuffs handfuls of antiretroviral drugs into his mouth, there’s still laughs to be had, albeit absurdist and bittersweet.

Hall’s tender manner works dividends, although he may need to speak a little louder when the trains rattle overhead. To some men and women this story of living with HIV/AIDS, the regimen of pills, the shame when people find out, may be very familiar, but rarely is this life played out on the stage. One of the reasons that Hall made this show is because he ever saw anyone like him on stage or on TV.

But to most people this must be a new story, and when Hall discusses the fact that HIV+ people who are on medication are 100% unable to pass along the virus there were gasps from the audience. There is a campaign called U=U (Undetectable =Untransmittable) to highlight this fact, but there is an urgent need for shows like First Time to disseminate this information.

With a deceptively simple set, designed by Irene Jade, First Time is a powerful play, and it reaches several climaxes in its 70 minute running time. Indeed, perhaps Hall plays with too many endings, and perhaps the one he chooses isn’t quite the right one. However, it doesn’t end until you get home and open up the envelope that you may have forgotten that you ever had. And this might be the most heart-breaking end ever.

Runs until 2 February 2020

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