Positive at Waterloo East
After a successful stint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 and a sold-out London performance for AIDS Awareness Day, Positive has returned for a three-week run at the Waterloo East Theatre. For a play centred on the effects of HIV, Positive is surprisingly comical. Written by budding young talent Shaun Kitchener – a graduate of the Royal Court Theatre’s infamous Young Writers Programme – the production deals with the human reality of HIV: rather than medical facts and figures, Kitchener concentrates on everyday life with HIV and the determination for “getting on with it,” in the face of social stigma and prejudice.
Reclusive Benji, played by Timothy George, has struggled mentally with HIV since his diagnosis despite encouraging medical improvement. His housemate Nikki, played by Nathalie Barclay, also HIV positive, is similarly afflicted despite her cheerful exterior. Together they show, albeit in different ways, the problems that accompany living with HIV in the 21st century, highlighting the improvements since the scaremongering of the 1980s and the pressures that still exist – particularly the effects upon family and relationships.
Kitchener’s script is wry and witty, adding welcome doses of humour to what is a grave and heavy topic. There are sections in which this works extremely well, such as the awkward yet endearing first date between Benji and Matt – played by Kitchener himself – where dry sarcasm blooms into ardent attraction. At times, however, over-egged comedy paired with exaggerated dramatics dampens the play’s impact, especially in the caricatured and overwrought character of Olly.
Positive’s greatest strength is its digressive, intertwining structure, which shifts between time frames, gradually unveiling each character’s story. Every character is successfully developed, but it is the women who really shine with Barclay’s Nikki delivering a truly affecting performance that describes the tribulations of dealing with such a taboo illness in a modern climate. Jamie-Rose Monk’s Jennifer steals the stage with her punchy jokes and bawdy delivery.
What Positive lacks in its often exaggerated, clumsy style is more than made up for in its honest handling of a delicate topic, Kitchener’s light-hearted script humorously and sensitively tackling the illness without becoming trivial.
Intriguing, clever and refreshingly high-spirited, Positive is play ready to tackle taboo and remit old prejudices into a 21st century light.
Positive is at Waterloo East Theatre until 1st June 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.