Review: First Time at Summerhall

Nathaniel Hall emerges from a pile of grey duvets, detritus strewn across the stage; he is all apologies. ‘Sorry it’s such a mess, you know what it’s like, bit of a party’ he stammers, claiming he’s not prepared to put on a show, despite the arts council grants he’s received.

But he is. Nathanial has been rehearsing this story for years. It’s his own: one of contracting HIV on his first time. It began when he was approached by a handsome Will Young look-alike. Who, shockingly in Stockport in 2003 was an out gay man. Nathanial was 16 and about to go to his prom in a daring cream tuxedo and thinking about coming out as he and the deputy head boy had been having a lot of good times in the attic. 

What follows is a family holiday marred by sickness before the eventual test that changed so much about his life. Nathaniel uses the stage in an innovative way, inhabiting different characters, downing the many pills he has swallowed since diagnosis and showing the side effects of the drugs including hallucinations.  A particularly moving moment involves projecting the images of those who came before him and were less fortunate in a candle-lit vigil that induced tears from much of the audience. 

Nathanial’s mission is to educate, destigmatise and empower, there is a brief moment during a round of ‘how are you most likely to contract HIV’ gameshow where this feels a little shoehorned. It’s an adult’s version of the same thing he does in schools but it still lands as a lesson.

Overall, however, the show is a tender and real exploration of the ways in which HIV can affect a life, how the stigma that still surrounds it is so out of kilter with the reality and the four letters that keep him going ‘hope’.

First Time runs at Summerhall – Cairns Lecture Theatre at 16:15 until 25th, not 12th or 19th.

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