Review: The HIV Monologues (Ace Hotel, London)

The HIV Monologues is a new play by dragonflies theatre and Theatre Bench, first launched at the Kings Head theatre at the end of 2016. Returning to London at Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, this is a stripped back production that exposes the stories about living with the effects of HIV.

The play, written by Patrick Cash, tells the stories of four main characters, interlinked by their experiences of HIV. We begin with Alex, a young actor on a date with a HIV positive man, scared by the thought of what any interaction could mean for him. Next is Irene, a nurse telling the story of a former patient and his thirst for life in his last few months. Nick, Alex’s date, recollects his side of the encounter as well as his experience of dealing with HIV and coming to terms with it. Finally, Barney, the former lover of Irene’s patient discusses his relationship. This isn’t an account of living with HIV; it’s an account of misinterpretations, of loving despite setbacks, and looking beyond the labels.

Director Luke Davies does a gallant job of bringing together Cash’s narrative. While the play is segmented between the four characters’ monologues and a closing section that brings together Alex, Nick and Barney, it flows nicely. In the Miranda at Ace Hotel, the text is exposed to speak for itself. A thrust stage surrounded by the audience on three sides, the characters left to pace the boards and tell their story face to face.  It’s gritty, it’s honest, and the simpleness of the whole affair serves the play well.

And the acting is impeccable. Each of the four actors in the company more than holds their own, embodying the characters perfectly. The monologue format can go one of two ways: either aiding a performance and grabbing the audience’s attention; or making it feel altogether removed, even slightly fantastical. I’m pleased to say that in this case, the former is at work. Alex, Irene, Nick and Barney feel like characters we know, that we’ve met in the street, that we empathise with, and it’s testament to Denholm Spurr, Charly Flyte, Kane Perry and Jonathan Blake that those characters feel real. Special mention here has to go to Charly Flyte, whose performance as Irene feels particularly touching as she challenges the stigma surrounding HIV, despite her character’s troubled past.

In fact, the only time that the characters felt less than human was in the production’s closing moments when all come together at the launch of Barney’s play. After being in each psyche for the first hour, hearing their individual stories, filling in the blanks ourselves, the combination of them all on stage feels slightly unnatural. It’s a small point, and it’s one that quickly alleviates itself as we’re drawn into the relationship between Alex and Nick.

That aside, there is plenty here to appreciate, and it’s a rewarding experience to leave having witnessed what feels like an incredibly honest and personal production. I for one will be hoping that it has a life beyond this short run.

Verdict: ★★★★☆

Realistic performances, a nicely intertwined dialogue and a gritty production characterise a play about an incredibly important subject. This is one fringe production not to be missed!

The HIV Monologues is running at Ace Hotel in Shoreditch until 19th February. Tickets are available from the dragonflies theatre website.

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